“I think the reality is...the stigma of mental illness is, in some ways, worse than the illness itself” blueVoices member

Stigma marks a person as ‘different’. The World Health Organisation defines stigma as “a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval which results in an individual being rejected, discriminated against, and excluded from participating in a number of different areas of society.”

Unfortunately, stigma often arises when people who don’t have a full understanding of someone else’s situation. This is certainly the case with anxiety. Research from the National Survey of Mental Health Literacy and Stigma shows that there are three main misconceptions when it comes to anxiety. These are centred around the person who has anxiety and how they believe others view their condition.

“Anxiety is a sign of personal weakness”

Anxiety doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all ages and all walks of life. It does not affect ‘weak people’, nor is it a sign of weakness. This perception needs to change as it means people dealing with anxiety are less likely to seek support.A person tries to lift a bench press labelled 'anxiety'

“People with anxiety can ‘snap out of it’ if they really wanted to”

There isn’t an on and off button for anxiety. Whilst it seems like an obvious statement, there is still a misconception that people dealing with anxiety should be able to just switch it off. It greatly underestimates anxiety as a condition and the effects it can have on a person, both psychological and physical. 

“An anxiety condition is not a real medical condition” 

All of us experience anxious feelings from time to time sometimes. It might be before a job interview, when you’re running late for a flight or if you’ve got 10 minutes left in an exam and are nowhere near finished! However, these are fleeting and can be considered natural experiences of anxiety that pass once the stressor has been removed. Anxiety as a mental health condition occurs when these feelings are ongoing and are brought about without any reason or cause. On top of the psychological symptoms of anxiety, there are also physical effects such as hot and cold flushes, a racing heart, tightening of the chest and quick breathing.A man tries in vain to turn the anxiety light switch offAnxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in four people – one in three women and one in five men – will experience an anxiety condition at some stage in their life. Being able to see past the myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition will help to create a more understanding environment for people with anxiety.

You can learn more about anxiety and take the anxiety checklist here.

Related reading: What a panic attack feels like

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