Women are nearly twice more prone to experiencing anxiety, as compared to men, a global review of 40 published works says.
Cambridge University researchers said that along with women, young people under 35 and people with chronic health problems are also particularly vulnerable to anxiety.
The study was published in the journal Brain and Behaviour.
The global review, based on 48 published pieces of work, revealed that more than 60 million people were affected by anxiety disorders every year in the EU.
Among the regions of the World, North America is thought to be worst affected, with eight in 100 people suffering from anxiety, while East Asia is the least affected with only three in 100 people suffering from this mood disorder.
The review estimated that four in every 100 people have this mental health problem.
The authors noted that unlike depression, anxiety is a problem that has rarely been researched.
The difference between anxiety and panic attacks is often not known to most people.
The study also revealed that the proportion of people suffering with this mental health problem stayed fairly constant between 1990 and 2010.
The review said more research is needed to find out which other communities are at high risk. The review noted that data was particularly lacking in indigenous cultures, and some communities, like drug users, sex workers and lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
Anxiety is ‘debilitating’
Review author Olivia Remes, from the department of public health and primary care at the University of Cambridge, said,
“There has been a lot of focus on depression – which is important – but anxiety is equally important and debilitating; it can lead to the development of other diseases and psychiatric disorders, increase the risk for suicide and is associated with high costs to society.”
“It is important for our health services to understand how common they are and which groups of people are at greatest risk.”
She said anxiety disorders could make life extremely difficult.
Ms Remes said that women could be more vulnerable because of hormonal fluctuations, their vulnerability to stress in general and because of their traditional role of caring for the young.
Bad health leads to anxiety
The review revealed that people suffering from a chronic health condition were at particular risk, thus, “adding a double burden on their lives”.
The study showed that 32% of people with multiple sclerosis have this mental health disorder and 15 to 23% of cancer patients are affected by it.
Also, pregnant women were also found to be particularly prone to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) before and immediately after the birth of their baby.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, said,
“Many people wait too long before seeing their GP, discounting social anxiety as just day-to-day stress.
“But it’s not the same as being ‘a bit shy’ and it’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you feel like your anxiety is interfering with your ability to do the things you normally would.”