When it comes to mental health, anxiety is the hot topic of the moment, and it’s easy to see why. According to the Mental Health Foundation, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK in 2013, and that number seems to be rising every day. And while so far discussions around the subject have looked at what’s causing so many of us to feel anxious, the conversation is starting to focus on gender. As in, why do women seem to be more prone to suffering from anxiety than men?ASOS
Leading the discussion is the American psychologist Dr Leonard Sax, who recently wrote a piece for The New York Times titled ‘Why do girls tend to have more anxiety than boys?‘. In it, he discusses cases he’s worked on, as well as the reasons behind this gender imbalance… but is it definitely true?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the answer’s yes. On their website they state: ‘From the time a girl reaches puberty until about the age of 50, she is twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder as a man. Anxiety disorders also occur earlier in women than in men.’ And the statistics seem to tell the same story on this side of the Atlantic; on the Mental Health Foundation’s website they cite a study which found: ‘In England women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders as men.’ASOS
But not everyone’s convinced – and it seems to be that word ‘diagnosed’ that’s the bone of contention. Jane Powell, CEO of CALM – a charity which was set up to help prevent male suicide – responded to these statistics, saying: ‘The idea that women suffer from anxiety more than men isn’t supported by the very stark fact that, year on year, three times as many men take their lives as women.’ And she wasn’t alone in being sceptical. Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK, told us: ‘While it is often said (and indeed official statistics suggest) that women are far more likely to have anxiety and anxiety disorders, our experience here at Anxiety UK is that men are as likely as women to be affected by such difficulties.’ In fact, she believes the statistics are misleading, explaining: ‘It is probably more accurate to state that women are more comfortable discussing their difficulties and therefore are more likely to seek advice from a healthcare practitioner than men and as such, these consultations are what gets officially recorded.’
This view was backed up by Rachel Boyd, information manager Mind, who told us: ‘Men and women may also deal with mental health problems in different ways: our research showed that women may talk more openly about their feelings and be more likely to turn to friends and family for support, whereas men may find other ways to unwind like watching TV or using drugs and alcohol.’ Although research they released last autumn shows that the gender gap isn’t quite as pronounced as you might expect. While they found that men were less likely than women to go for therapy for anxiety, it was only marginally so, with 14% of men saying they’d go compared to just 19% of women.ASOS
So what can we take from all of this? Well, while it’s hard to tell conclusively whether or not women are more prone to anxiety than men, all the experts we spoke to agreed that what’s most important is making sure that everyone who needs support gets it. As Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, explained: ‘Although it might seem tempting to put on a brave face, it really is OK to cry. It’s time for us all to stop holding back the tears and reach out for support. Responding to symptoms early is vital, so that they don’t become more serious and complicated.’ Because when it comes to mental health we all need to be treated as individuals, and creating an environment where everyone – regardless of gender – feels safe to share their feelings and experiences is key.
Anxiety UK offers a range of support for anxiety including 1:1 talking therapy treatments (cognitive behavioural therapy – CBT, counselling, clinical hypnotherapy), acupuncture, mindfulness (via the Headspace app) along with a national information line: 08444 775 774, website and live chat support service and email support service.