It’s surprising, as there is a lot of talk in the media lately about the fight to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Campaigns such as Time To Change are encouraging people to share their stories and to not be ashamed to seek help and support. While this shift in attitude is positive and there does appear to be more awareness about mental illness, there is still a long way to go. Anxiety is a term that is often thrown about without thought. Many people hold misconceptions about what it means to have an anxiety disorder and don’t understand the devastating impact it can have on people’s lives. For those suffering, this only worsens the plight. I want to correct some of the misconceptions that trouble me the most, based on my own experiences.
1. Feeling stressed occasionally is not the same as having an anxiety disorder The NHS states that: ‘Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview. ‘During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal.’ While it’s true that anyone can feel anxious, this is not in any way the same as having an anxiety disorder, which can have a very real impact on day-to-day life. It can become totally overwhelming and it’s not helpful to see the term used carelessly.
2. An anxiety disorder is not something you can just ‘snap out of’ It is not just ‘being a bit worried’ it is a real illness with a real impact that can be highly incapacitating. The most unhelpful things that people still say to me include ‘just don’t think about it’ and ‘it’s all in your head.’ Telling somebody with anxiety to stop worrying is like telling somebody with a broken back to stand up straight. We wouldn’t address physical illness so inaccurately, and mental illness should be no different.
3. There is not always an obvious reason for somebody to feel anxious Anxiety disorders are complex and difficult to make sense of. Telling a person suffering that there is ‘nothing to worry about’ might help to reassure them, but it isn’t going to take the panic away. It’s not that simple.
4. Anxiety might be a mental illness, but the physical effects are real Symptoms of anxiety can include nausea, stomach ache, migraines, palpitations and more. Everyone feels it differently. Just because you can’t see an illness, it doesn’t make it any less real for the person suffering.
5. There are treatments for anxiety Some people still believe that anxiety will just sort itself out. This might be the case for some, but not everyone. There is no need to suffer in silence and just hope it will pass, when help is out there. Your GP can provide more information about access to talking therapies, self-help and medication. Everybody is different and it’s about finding out what works for you.