Anxiety cases have trebled among young adults since the financial crash of 2008, amid fears over the impact of social media on mental health.
Around a third of women aged 18 to 24 suffered from the debilitating mental illness in 2018, up from less than one in ten a decade ago.
Cases among men of the same age have also trebled, taking the number suffering from anxiety as high as 14.95 per cent.
But for those aged over 55 from both genders cases have barely risen, suggesting a generational divide in the UK’s ‘hidden epidemic’.
The alarming statistics were revealed in one of the biggest studies of anxiety ever undertaken in the UK, which examined trends in diagnosis and treatment by GPs since 1998. It included 6.6million patients at 795 practices.
It comes amid mounting warnings over the damaging impact of social media, alongside climate change and the vote to leave the European Union. The study used data up to 2018, meaning the suspected devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic was not included in the results.
The above graph shows rates of anxiety in men and women between 1998 and 2018. It reveals that after the financial crash in 2008 rates shot up for women aged 18 to 24, 25 to 34 and 35 to 44. In men the rates also rose rapidly for those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34. But there was little change among adults aged 55 and over, suggesting a generational divide
A study has revealed that women aged 18 to 24 are suffering the highest rates of anxiety in the UK, with almost a third affected. It comes amid the emergence of social media
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is a normal part of life that affects different people in different ways at different times.
Whereas stress can come and go, anxiety often persists and does not always have an obvious cause.
Along with depression, anxiety is among the most common mental-health condition in the UK, affecting 8.2million people in 2013 alone.
Around 40million adults suffer from the condition in the US every year.
Anxiety can make a person imagine things in their life are worse than they are or that they are going mad.
Although it evolved as part of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism in our caveman days to avoid danger, anxiety can be inappropriately activated in everyday life when stress builds up.
It can have a clear cause, such as moving house or having surgery. However, sometimes little life events build up until a person is unable to cope, with anxiety then taking them by surprise.
Physical symptoms can include:
- Increased heart rate and muscle tension
- Hyperventilation and dizziness
- A tight band across the chest
- Tension headaches
- Hot flushes
- ‘Jelly legs’
- Feeling like you are choking
- Tingling in the hands and feet
Some psychological symptoms are:
- Thinking you are going mad or losing control
- Thinking you may die or get ill
- Feeling people are staring at you
- Feeling detached from others or on edge
Treatment often involves counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.
Activates like yoga, exercise, reading and socialising can help to manage anxiety.
In the study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers showed cases of anxiety have jumped from 8.42 per cent to 30.33 per cent in women aged 18 to 24 between 2008 and 2018.
Similarly, for women aged between 25 and 34, anxiety cases have more than doubled in ten years from 9.08 per cent to 21.69 per cent.
In men the number of anxiety disorders for those aged 18 to 24 rose from 4.95 per cent to 14.88 per cent over ten years. And more than doubled in men aged 25 to 34 from 9.08 per cent to 21.69 per cent.
Professor Nick Freemantle, lead researcher for the study and a professor at University College London, told the Guardian: ‘Given the steep increases in anxiety revealed by this research, and the sheer number of people affected, it is now clear that Britain has a really serious and worsening problem with anxiety, which can have devastating effects on people’s lives.
‘And these data stopped just before the Covid-19 pandemic; we can only speculate on how they would look now.’
Explaining what he thought had caused the concerning surge, Professor Freemantle added: ‘During this period (2008 to 2018) we had a recession, a vote to leave Europe, which was not popular among young people, social media became ubiquitous, there was increased concern about the climate, and there was a change of attitude towards anxiety disorders.’
He said some of these events may have contributed to feelings of ‘hopelessness and powerlessness’.
The authors added in the study: ‘Social media use, which early research suggests is strongly associated with anxiety, is more common among young people and may be partly responsible.
‘Profitable social media platforms use a business model that monetises the attention of users by selling it to advertisers, but in actuality, social media users are the product and not the customer.’
The paper referenced a US study published in the American Journal of Health Behaviour on 1,730 adults aged between 19 and 32 years, which found those that used social media regularly were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those that do not.
Another study, published last year in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, revealed children who use social media just three times a day are more likely to develop anxiety ‘because they get less sleep, exercise and are exposed to cyber bullying’.
Scientists from University College London came to the conclusion after interviewing 13,000 teenagers that went to more than 1,000 schools across the UK.
The Daily Mail reported yesterday on an image of a woman in a red floral bikini which had been warped by a social media filter, making the two images look like completely different women.
She was a different shape, that was both slimmer and pumped up, with larger breasts and a hint of a six pack. Her teeth had also been made whiter, her eyes bigger and her hair longer.
Experts argue that this change could trigger anxiety for those using the filters, as it creates unrealistic expectations of their appearance, and those viewing the photo online, as they try to copy the invented appearance.
The woman in the photo, social media influencer Emily Clarkson, 26, said the changes were ‘the point’ of the filter.
‘When you start down this route, the changes are subtle,’ she said. ‘You’re just getting rid of a spot or the bags under your eyes. You’re seeing what you’d look like with red hair, or blonde hair. It’s harmless. It’s fun. But then you’re on a slippery slope.’
Emily Clarkson, 26, (pictured) is explaining to me how she has ‘improved’ a selection of her own selfies, using some of the many popular apps and filter options available to a generation of young social media users
The woman revealed she has edited a selection of her own selfies using many popular apps and filter options which are deployed by countless other young social media influences.
The apps include FaceApp, which provides options including the ‘Hollywood’ look, and Instant Beauty, or a computer’s idea of beauty.
Instagram also provides several built-in filters to allow users to ‘va-va-voom’ their photos, and warp them away from reality.
During lockdown, a survey suggested that Britons were turning away from ‘anxiety-inducing’ social media to more traditional forms of communication in order to stay connected.
Compared with the anxiety-inducing experience of posting updates on Facebook and Instagram, two thirds of adults still think sending a hand-written message is the best way to keep in touch.
In a poll of more than 2,000 UK adults, 66 per cent said a personalised card is the most meaningful and thoughtful way to communicate feelings to a loved one.
Almost half (47 per cent) of respondents said the thought of writing a heartfelt letter or card made them feel happy, while 50 per cent said social media has no positive effects on their close relationships.
The study was overseen by University of Oxford evolutionary anthropologist Dr Anna Machin, who said younger people exist in an unhealthy social media ‘micro-world’.