Almost a decade wait for anxiety treatment

Anxiety treatment average wait time is 8.2 years: NPS MedicineWise

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AN ILLNESS: On average, one in four people experience anxiety at some stage in their life. Photo: Shutterstock.

AN ILLNESS: On average, one in four people experience anxiety at some stage in their life. Photo: Shutterstock.


Accessing anxiety treatment takes an average of 8.2 years.


IT'S more than just worrying about a troublesome day. Anxiety can be a seriously, debilitating disease - but it's taking us on average 8.2 years to get help.

That's according to new data from NPS MedicineWise. The same data also shows more than two in three people over 50 believe it takes five years or less to get professional treatment for the mental illness - but there's a big gap between that estimate and the reality.

The organisation's medical adviser Jeannie Yoo said much of the delay is due to the time it takes someone to recognise their symptoms are being caused by anxiety.

"Once they do, it can be a great relief for them to understand that the way they feel is due to a treatable condition, and that this condition is not uncommon," Dr Yoo said.

It's estimated by Beyond Blue that 10 per cent of older people experience anxiety. But many over the age of 65 still believe there is a stigma attached to mental illness, viewing it as a weakness or character flaw rather than a genuine health condition.

But this isn't the case.

"People who have an anxiety disorder may find it difficult to describe how they feel, or be worried about what their friends or family will think if they try," Dr Yoo said.

"By increasing public awareness and understanding of anxiety disorders, those who are affected may find it easier to take the next step of seeing their GP or other health professional, and through this, access the effective treatments that are available."

Self-harm on the rise

There's an alarmingly growing increase in self-harm incidents among the elderly. 

A new study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry analysed 40 research papers and found yearly self-harm rates were 19 to 65 per 100,000 people. It also found an increased risk for older adults with self-harm history.

Loss of control, increased loneliness and perceived burdensome ageing were reported self-harm motivations.

"Self-harm in older adults has distinct characteristics that should be explored to improve management and care," wrote lead author Isabela Troya from Keele University.

"Although risk of further self-harm and suicide is high in all age cohorts, risk of suicide is higher in older adults.

"Given the frequent contact with health services, an opportunity exists for detection and prevention of self-harm and suicide in this population."

Signs to watch

The symptoms of anxiety in older people are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop gradually.

Symptoms can range from behavioural and physical to feelings and thoughts. Some common signs include:

  • feeling overwhelmed
  • constantly feeling nervous
  • uncomfortable or overwhelming panic
  • finding it hard to stop worrying
  • having upsetting dreams or flashbacks of traumatic events
  • increased heart rate
  • vomiting, nausea or pain
  • avoiding certain objects or situations that cause anxiety
  • difficulty making decisions
  • performing certain rituals to try and self-sooth (ie, hair pulling, obsessively washing hands).

Risk factors

Factors that can increase an older person's risk of developing anxiety or depression include:

  • an increase in physical health problems/conditions e.g. heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer's disease
  • chronic pain
  • side-effects from medications
  • losses: relationships, independence, work and income, self-worth, mobility and flexibility
  • social isolation
  • significant change in living arrangements e.g. moving from living independently to a care setting
  • admission to hospital
  • particular anniversaries and the memories they evoke.

Getting help

The good news is treatments are available for anxiety disorder, including lifestyle changes, medication and counselling - both online and face-to-face. Different therapies work for different people. 

Many people are wary of online counselling. NPS MedicineWise found only 7 per cent of people over 50 believed online treatment programs were effective, compared to 67 per cent recognising face-to-face treatment as effective.

However, this is not the case. NPS MedicineWise says there's evidence showing several online treatment programs available in Australia are as effective as face-to-face counselling.

Speaking with your GP is often the first step to treatment, as GPs can direct you to the appropriate services in your local area. Alternatively, Beyond Blue has a Find A Professional directory.

For immediate help, call Beyond Blue on 1300-224-636 or Lifeline on 13-11-14.