Women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men, according to a review of existing scientific literature led by researchers at the University of Cambridge in England.
The study also found that people from Western Europe and North America are more likely to suffer from anxiety than people from other cultures.
Published in the journal Brain and Behavior, the review also highlighted how anxiety disorders often provide a double burden on people experiencing other health-related problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and even pregnancy.
Anxiety disorders, which often manifest as excessive worry, fear, and a tendency to avoid potentially stressful situations, such as social gatherings, are some of the most common mental health problems in the Western world.
The annual cost related to the disorders in the United States is estimated to be $42.3 million. In the European Union, more than 60 million people are affected by anxiety disorders in a given year, according to researchers.
There have been many studies looking at the number of people affected by anxiety disorders and the groups that are at highest risk. After conducting a review of more than 1,200 global studies, researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Public Health identified 48 reviews that matched their criteria for inclusion in their analysis.
Between 1990 and 2010, the overall proportion of people affected remained largely unchanged, with around four out of every 100 experiencing anxiety, according to the researchers.
The highest proportion of people with anxiety is in North America, where almost eight out of every 100 people are affected; the lowest is in East Asia, where less than three in 100 people have this mental health problem.
Women are almost twice as likely to be affected as men, and young individuals — both male and female — under 35 years of age are disproportionately affected, the scientists discovered.
The researchers also found that people with other health conditions are often far more likely to also experience anxiety disorders.
For example, around one in ten adults (10.9 percent) with cardiovascular disease and living in Western countries are affected by generalized anxiety disorder, with women showing higher anxiety levels than men. People living with multiple sclerosis are most affected — as many as one in three patients (32 percent) also have an anxiety disorder, the analysis discovered.
“Anxiety disorders can make life extremely difficult for some people and it is important for our health services to understand how common they are and which groups of people are at greatest risk,” said first author and doctoral student Olivia Remes from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge.
“By collecting all these data together, we see that these disorders are common across all groups, but women and young people are disproportionately affected. Also, people who have a chronic health condition are at a particular risk, adding a double burden on their lives.”
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) was found to be a problem in pregnant women and in the period immediately after birth. In the general population, only one in a hundred people are affected by OCD, but the proportion with the disorder was double in pregnant women and slightly higher in post-partum women, according to the researchers.
The researchers noted that their analysis also showed that data on some populations was lacking or of poor quality. This was particularly true for marginalized communities, such as indigenous cultures in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and drug users, street youth and sex workers.
Anxiety disorders also represent an important issue among people identifying as lesbian, gay, and bisexual, however there are not enough studies in these populations, and those that have looked at it are of variable quality, the researchers added.
“Anxiety disorders affect a lot of people and can lead to impairment, disability, and risk of suicide,” said Dr. Louise Lafortune, Senior Research Associate at the Cambridge Institute of Public Health. “Although many groups have examined this important topic, significant gaps in research remain.”
“Even with a reasonably large number of studies of anxiety disorder, data about marginalized groups is hard to find, and these are people who are likely to be at an even greater risk than the general population,” added Professor Carol Brayne, Director of the Cambridge Institute of Public Health.
“We hope that, by identifying these gaps, future research can be directed towards these groups and include greater understanding of how such evidence can help reduce individual and population burdens.”
Source: University of Cambridge