Let's face it: anxiety disorders are tricky to handle and treat at times. Just when you think you have a grip on your mental health issues, your anxiety may be triggered out of the blue by something new. The ever-changing way your mental illness manifests may make it more difficult for you and your mental health support team to find longterm solutions. However, if you feel like you aren't getting the therapeutic help you need— or the correct mental health care — you are not alone. A new study suggests only one in 10 people with an anxiety disorder are receiving the right mental health treatment, and the reason why is infuriating.
Occasional anxiety is sometimes thought as a pesky but insignificant problem, but anxiety disorders can be downright debilitating — and have long lasting consequences and cost associated with them. In the United States alone, 40 million adults are affected by anxiety, making it the most common mental illness in the country. Furthermore, anxiety disorders are considered the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide. Jordi Alonso, the Director of the Epidemiology and Public Health program at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) and lead researcher on the sutdy, explained in a press release that, “It is estimated that anxiety disorders affect 10 percent of the global population. These are pathologies that tend to be chronic, comorbid, and associated with a significant disability. If we add to this the fact that in 2010 they cost a group of 30 European Union countries €74,400 million [over $91 billion U.S.], it is clear that this is an important public health problem.”
The study revealed not only that anxiety is a worldwide problem, but most people with the mental illness are not receiving appropriate mental health treatment — or, receiving care at all. Of the 51,500 study participants from over 21 different countries, only 27.6 percent received some type of treatment for their anxiety disorder. Moreover, the research showed a mere 9.8 percent of the people who did seek mental health care for their anxiety received the right treatment. The study was published in Anxiety and Depression, the official journal of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), on Jan. 22.
So, what is the proper treatment for anxiety? Victor Pérez, the Director of the Hospital de Mar's Institute of Psychiatry and Addiction, concluded in the press release, “Adequate treatment for an anxiety disorder that has been evolving over a 12-month period is considered to be either pharmacological treatment involving at least four visits to the doctor, or psychotherapeutic treatment including at least eight visits.” Simply put, the researchers found person struggling with an anxiety disorder need to see a psychiatrist an average of four times, or a therapist at least eight times, before seeing seeing positive improvements to their mental health issue. According to the ADAA, treatment options for anxiety may vary depending on the individual and require a “comprehensive assessment.” However, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly recommended for those people with anxiety disorders.
The researchers noted various factors kept study participants from seeking out and receiving proper mental health treatment. They found just 41.3 percent of people living with anxiety were aware they needed medical treatment — a percentage that decreased to 26.3 percent in participants that didn’t have a co-occuring mental illness like depression. Additionally, the study’s authors noted “weaknesses of the health system, treatment costs, and the stigma perceived by sufferers of these [anxiety] disorders” also severely limited people’s willingness to access and utilize mental health care.
"Health literacy and awareness should be promoted in those countries where the need is not recognised,” said Alonso in the press release. “It is important to encourage healthcare providers to follow clinical guidelines to improve treatment quality when it comes to anxiety disorders.”
The study proves that while our awareness around mental health issues like anxiety may be steadily improving, our entire world is facing a large gap when it comes to providing proper mental health treatment. Therapy and psychiatric medications can be costly, but the emotional and financial toll of an anxiety disorder only increases the longer it takes you recognize and treat it. Improving our understanding of anxiety can help reduce the number of people who suffer from it on a global scale, and can ensure that it doesn’t become a lifelong struggle.