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Australians have come a long way in understanding depression. Most recognise the symptoms and believe in the value of professional help.
But anxiety disorders have been left behind. National surveys of “mental health literacy” show Australians are far less likely to recognise symptoms of anxiety.
Around 15% of Australians suffer an anxiety disorder in any given year. This includes generalised anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
When given a description of a person who is depressed, around three-quarters of survey respondents recognise the person is “depressed”. With PTSD, only a third get the label correct. For social phobia, it’s less than one in ten.
Australians are also less likely to see a person with an anxiety disorder as warranting professional help.
Watch: Mamamia co-founder Mia Freedman opens up about her life with generalised anxiety disorder. (Post continues after video.)
One reason for lack of understanding is that anxiety is something everyone experiences. And it’s not always a bad thing. Anxiety is necessary for our survival, because it protects us from danger. It can also motivate us to improve our performance in situations such as exams, sporting competitions and public speaking.
But, like many good things, it is possible to have too much. When the anxiety is intense, lasting and interferes with a person’s life, then it becomes an anxiety disorder.
However, there is no clear boundary between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders. They lie along a continuum, just like obesity is at the high end of body size and hypertension at the high end of blood pressure.