Spotlight on Anxiety and Women’s Health
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness or fear that is a normal response to stress. When these anxious feelings are persistent and interfere with daily life an anxiety disorder may be present. One in three women, compared to one in five men will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and anxiety disorders are the leading contributor to the burden of disease in Australian girls and women aged five to 44.
Types of anxiety disorders include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobia and panic disorder. Anxiety disorder symptoms vary and can include:
• Psychological symptoms (frequent or excessive worry, specific fears or phobias, poor concentration);
• Physical symptoms (fatigue, sleeping difficulties, muscle tension, upset stomach and difficulty breathing); and
• Behavioural changes (procrastination, avoidance, indecision and social withdrawal).
Although there is a lack of recent Australian population data on the prevalence of anxiety disorders, a 2018 survey of over 15,000 women aged over 18 found 46% of women reported being diagnosed with anxiety or depression.
Worldwide, the rates of anxiety and other mental health conditions among adolescent girls are on the rise. In 2014, the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health found that 28% of women aged 18-23 reported a diagnosis of anxiety or depression.
In Australia, studies and surveys on different cohorts return varying results. For example, a study of over 600 people who attended the 2016 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Fair Day found that 58% of lesbian, bisexual and queer women reported a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder, depression or other mental health condition. The 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey found that 34% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women reported being diagnosed with a mental health condition, including anxiety.
Women’s higher likelihood of developing anxiety symptoms and related disorders are thought to arise from a combination of genetic, biological and socio-environmental factors.
Addressing social factors such as exposure to poverty and violence, provides the greatest opportunity for anxiety prevention. For example, women who experience domestic violence are four times more likely to develop anxiety. Low socioeconomic status is also associated with anxiety disorders.
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