Anxiety disorders are ranked as the sixth largest contributor to life-long health concerns worldwide with an estimated 3.6 percent (264 million) of the global population living with anxiety.
It affects nearly one in five adults in the US and in South Africa, the South African Stress and Health (SASH) study found. Anxiety disorders were found to be the most prevalent class of lifetime mental disorders at 15.8 percent.
On average, one in eight men will have depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives.
And even though statistics point towards women being twice as likely to suffer from anxiety disorders, the reason might be more social than scientific.
Dr Ian Westmore, a member of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP), says the stigma associated with anxiety disorders considers the condition as "unmanly" and a sign of weakness.
He says that “this is the very reason men are less likely to talk about their anxiety, and instead drown their anxiety with poor coping behaviours, increasing their risk of the anxiety or depression to go unrecognised and untreated”.
Westmore says men are far less likely to seek support, as is common with women who are more eager to speak out and seek help, due to the "macho male stereotype" in society expecting men to "man up" and adopt the "boys don’t cry" mentality.
“It’s this attitude of men portrayed as being brave and fearless that leads to men considering themselves in a negative light if they suffer from anxiety. And for this very reason, they see it as putting themselves in a vulnerable position when seeking help."
Westmore emphasised it’s a given that everyone would feel anxious from time to time and not every anxious episode should be seen as a disorder.
“It’s okay to worry about things and life’s many challenges. The difference is when that very worry is difficult to control or shake long past a certain experience or event and it starts interfering with your day-to-day activities or changes the way that you used to approach life such as going out with your friends, being productive at work, taking part in team sport, bantering with colleagues, and so forth. It severely affects relationships in that the coping mechanisms applied more often affects those close through alcohol, abusive behaviour, and frequently depression."
What are the tell-tale signs?
- Pounding or racing heart
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle tension or aches
- Restlessness or agitation
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Shortness of breath or sensation of choking
- Panic attacks
- Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
Westmore says it’s important to share your symptoms with someone you trusted. Start with a family member or friend but always find your way to a health care professional who would be able to help you manage the symptoms.
He said that treatments included cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling and in some instances, medication depending on the type of anxiety present.