Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. Currently, 40 million adults, or 19% of the U.S population, have an anxiety disorder, and as much as 30% of American adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. While anxiety disorders come in many different forms, including social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, they all have one thing in common: They leave a negative impact on the lives of those they affect.
While anyone can suffer from an anxiety disorder, there are certain groups of people who are more affected than others. Minorities, in particular, tend to have higher rates of anxiety disorders than the general population — even if the data may not directly reflect this reality. This is due to complex factors that include systemic discrimination, higher stress, and differing cultural perceptions around mental illness. Read on to find out more about anxiety and how it affects minorities.
What Is an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences at one point or another. It’s the feeling you get when you’re faced with a situation that’s challenging or scary — like taking a test, going on a first date, or standing close to a ledge. Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but for some people, anxiety is heightened and can become so overwhelming that it interferes with their daily lives.
Anxiety disorders are a type of mental illness that can cause overwhelming, intense, and persistent anxiety that gets in the way of everyday activities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are five main types of anxiety disorders:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
There are also various subtypes of these disorders, and a particular individual may have more than one of these simultaneously.
The Biological Mechanism Behind Anxiety
Many forms of anxiety are biologically sourced in the dysfunction of your amygdala — the part of your brain that watches for threats. People who suffer from anxiety have a larger, hypersensitive amygdala that fires signals to feel anxious even when there isn’t a valid threat. This causes people who suffer from anxiety to feel threatened and on edge more often than others.
How Does Anxiety Impact Your Life?
Anxiety disorders are different from one another, but they all share one commonality: a nervous response that’s out of proportion with the situation. For example, people with social anxiety disorder might feel anxious about going to a party, even if they’re with close friends. People with OCD might be afraid of getting sick, even though there’s no evidence that they’re actually at risk.
In addition to feeling anxious, people with anxiety disorders may also have physical symptoms, like a pounding heart, sweating, or trembling. They might avoid the situations they’re afraid of, which can make it hard to do everyday activities. For example, agoraphobia is a type of anxiety that’s characterized by a fear of open spaces or unfamiliar areas. People who suffer from agoraphobia might avoid going outside of their home, even if it’s just to go to the grocery store.
What Causes Anxiety?
The cause of anxiety is a complex puzzle that can involve both nature (genetic) and nurture (life experiences). While many people who suffer from anxiety are naturally predisposed to it, anxiety disorders can also be triggered and exacerbated by situational factors.
Traumatic experiences or events that cause stress can trigger anxiety, and if they happen often enough, a person may go on to develop an anxiety disorder — especially if these events occur during their childhood or formative years. In some circumstances, a person who isn’t genetically predisposed to anxiety at all can still develop it if they are exposed to enough stress.
How Minorities End up With More Anxiety
Situational factors to anxiety are especially relevant for minorities, who suffer from higher rates of trauma and stress due to systemic discrimination. Studies have shown that experiences like racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia can lead to increased levels of anxiety. When these experiences are stacked upon one another, such as when an individual belongs to more than one minority group, the effect is heightened.
Trauma and Stress
While it’s easy to picture trauma and stress as being caused by singular big events, such as car accidents or major injuries, it’s more subtle than that in many cases. In fact, much of the trauma minorities face stems from daily events that take a toll on them in the long run.
Microaggressions are a type of subtle but pervasive form of discrimination that manifest in small, often subconscious daily actions to make someone feel unwelcome or unincluded and cause higher levels of anxiety. Even though an individual microaggression may not make a big difference, when thousands of them are added up over years or decades, it can cause an extremely negative effect on one’s mental health.
Another example of this compounding effect is the fact that many minorities tend to live in poverty. Not only does this lead to an increased exposure to violence and traumatic experiences, but it also causes chronic stress due to the constant worry about money and being able to afford basic needs. This stress can then lead to anxiety and other mental health disorders, not to mention physical issues such as high blood pressure and chronic illness.
Minority groups are also more likely to work low-paying jobs and high-stress jobs without any benefits or protections. Furthermore, they may not have the same social support systems as those in the majority, making it harder to deal with stressors when they do arise.
Why Isn’t This Represented in Statistics?
Even though minorities, on the whole, are more likely to live in anxiety-inducing conditions, the current statistics say that white people have the highest prevalence of anxiety disorders, with the exception of PTSD, which is most prevalent in Black populations.
This is mainly due to the fact that getting a diagnosis and appropriate treatment is more accessible to white populations due to economic and social factors. Minorities are less likely to have access to insurance, competent healthcare providers who understand their unique problems, and even the extra time it takes to seek out medical treatment.
Additionally, many minority groups are less likely to frame their mental health problems within the context of modern psychiatric diagnoses. This is because the medical establishment for these groups historically ignored these problems. It was necessary for survival to either shrug them off, find alternative ways to treat them, or ignore them completely.
Treatments for Anxiety
Many treatment methods are available for anxiety, ranging from popular therapeutic techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to newer, cutting-edge therapies like ketamine therapy.
At Vitality Psychiatric Services, we specialize in offering ketamine therapy to treat a wide variety of psychiatric conditions, including mood disorders, substance abuse, depression, and anxiety disorders. Under our guidance, we have seen patients make significant improvements with their anxiety after only a few treatments. To learn how we can help you, click Learn More below.