A doctor and anxiety sufferer writes why this illness cannot just be shrugged off as ‘moodiness’.
Over the weekend, Mark Latham wrote a column in the Australian Financial Review about anxiety. Among other things, he writes off anxiety as ‘moodiness’ and ‘worrying about things’. Mark doesn’t seem particularly interested in people’s suffering in his article.
His claims are extraordinary – and yet he provides no evidence to support any of them. Claims like:
Instead he trivialises the emotions of eight per cent of Australians reported to suffer with anxiety, by using words such as ‘head-cases’ and ‘neurotic’. He argues that the everyday worries of normal people have been turned into anxiety for which they are now medicated, and that this is because they have somehow been ‘conned’ into to it.
He makes claims like:
“The latest fad is to diagnose every citizen with depression and anxiety.”
“Anxiety used to be seen as a regular part of life… but now it’s a frontline health condition, the medicalisation of normality. My biggest worry is that 8 per cent of Australians have been conned into thinking that they can only deal with anxiety by popping pills.”
I am a health scientist. I specialise in diagnosis. I have also experienced anxiety first hand. So has my wife.
I can assure Mr Latham, and anyone else who shares his view, that anxiety is a world away from moodiness or worry.
When I experienced anxiety, I couldn’t function. I couldn’t talk with people. I became house-bound. I woke with a sense of absolute dread in my gut every single morning and it lasted all day long. And I had no real clue about what I was ‘dreading’. This went on for months.
This was not moodiness. It was not worry. It was crippling.
Let’s be clear on anxiety. Science has shown us that it is a real ‘thing’. Using functional MRI scans we have known for years that an anxious brain behaves differently to a non-anxious brain.
The brain of an anxious person is in ‘hyper-alarm mode. Hyper ‘fight or flight’ mode. Hyper-fear mode. And in this mode, the slightest things can trigger the alarm.
When the fear alarm goes off in someone with anxiety it can have devastating effects on their well-being and ability to perform.
Anxiety can also have very debilitating physical symptoms.
My wife Rhoda developed anxiety after the birth of our second child. Her symptoms were physical – and so her anxiety was mis-diagnosed. Rhoda had numerous unnecessary medical tests over a period of 9 months to try and find out what was wrong.
Eventually we saw a physician who pulled together all the test results and realised that Rhoda had undiagnosed anxiety. She had been suffering the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as dizziness, heart palpitations, and feeling faint, and these had led the other doctors to focus on these physical symptoms, rather than her emotions.
Rhoda took medication and within a month was feeling completely different. Within 18 months she was off the medication, and later that year won an international sales award and is now competing in a 40+ fitness model competition … just because ‘she can’ and she’s having fun.
I did not take medication to treat my own anxiety. I ended up “thinking” my way out of anxiety, and it took four years. I used a variety of techniques that helped at different times, and then went on to achieve great success.
These are real stories of real Australians who have suffered with anxiety. We were not neurotic. We were not ‘head-cases’. We did our best to ‘soldier on’. We didn’t turn our everyday worries into anxiety. We were not conned into thinking medication was the only answer.
Related: This is what anxiety feels like.
We were part of the eight per cent of Australian’s that Latham refers to, and we don’t relate to anything he said in his article. And if that’s true for us, then it’s probably true for a whole lot of others in that “eight per cent”.
It is worth addressing Latham’s claim that anxiety is being over-diagnosed. Of course it’s possible that any condition can be ‘over-diagnosed’. It is possible for people to make a mountain out of a so-called molehill. It is possible for doctors to jump to conclusions. It is possible for the diagnostic tests themselves to be less than reliable. And yet Latham has provided no evidence of this when it comes to anxiety.
Certainly, Mark Latham is entitled to his opinion, as am I. And in my opinion, if someone is struggling, if they are fearful, if they are missing out on life because of fear, then let’s not sweep it under the carpet. Let’s not trivialise it. Let’s not use Latham’s draconian thinking about anxiety to say that ‘normal people think this is rubbish’. It’s unhelpful, it’s damaging and it will stop people from getting the help that is available.
If you have anxiety, panic, or stress, it’s important to acknowledge it.
It’s ok to want to escape a cycle of panic. It is okay to want a better life.
And it’s okay to ignore Mark Latham on this topic.
The first step to a better life is an acknowledgement of how things are, because from that honest place you can begin a journey back to health.
How do you feel about Mark Latham’s claims about anxiety?