An international study has shown that British children are among the most anxious in the world.
This week’s news on the subject reminded me of a recent visit to my GP to discuss my anxiety. He compared my life in England to the life of those in war torn countries. I felt bad. And a bit stupid. I haven’t witnessed bus bombings or lost my home. And I am certainly not living on a fault line or at risk of being engulfed by an avalanche. What on earth do I have to be anxious about? Are we truly a country of whinging poms?
I’m no doctor, but one thing I do know is that anxiety can be a perfectly understandable response to an event. That is anxiety, but it’s not an anxiety disorder. Although traumatic events can certainly lead to one.
My GP was right in one respect. I haven’t grown up surrounded by trauma. My family wasn’t rich but we didn’t want for anything (except that Mr Frosty machine I asked for every Christmas). I had a nice home life, a mum I could talk to about anything and I did alright at school (if you take my D in Geography out of the equation, but at least I now know that I don’t live on a fault line).
So why, out of the blue, did a panic attack bring me to my knees on a busy street in Hull when I was a teenager? Why was I diagnosed with an anxiety disorder?
According to the NHS website, causes may include a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetic factors, substance misuse and painful long-term health conditions.
I have no idea what caused mine. I don’t think there’s an actual test to prove that your chemicals are out of sync – although I know that anti-depressants make a big difference to me. As does talking therapy, exercise and cutting back on caffeine. So it must be a mix of things – both internal and external.
In my experience, I am more scared of the imaginable than I am of the reality. Before I was diagnosed with pleurisy as a teenager, I was convinced I had lung cancer. I wouldn’t even make 18 never mind 27 like Joplin and Hendrix. When I got the diagnosis, however, I just got on with the convalescence and quite enjoyed my time out from A-Level Law.
So if British kids are more anxious, it certainly doesn’t mean they are weaker.
The unknown plays a big role for me. I grew up in the 80s, when Charley the Cat showed us that ‘stranger danger’ was rife, and school assemblies featured warnings about acid rain and plastic bullets. No wonder I was worried.
In terms of my diet? Well, we ate crispy pancakes and Fray Bentos back then, and Maggie had previously taken the milk away so we were probably drinking blue pop instead.
My brain, my worries, my diet – it all must have played a part.
But what do today’s kids have to be anxious about?
Millennials seem to be far more concerned with world news and politics. My 18 year old is politically-savvy, which is great in some respects, but for several years now he has lay awake at night worrying about current affairs. Social media means it’s not just school assemblies where kids are burdened with warnings about how scary the world is, it’s a 24/7 stream of extreme fear. He was terrified about the Tory’s getting into power, but he got used to it, he dealt with it. Now it’s the unknown all over again. And it could get even worse.
‘Fake news’, climate change, snap elections, nuclear threats, unpredictable presidents, headlines telling us to eat more salmon to prevent cancer, headlines telling us too much salmon causes cancer. A ball of confusion that lives in every kid’s iPhone and niggles at them 24/7. They should be asleep, but they’re too worried to sleep, so they consume even more of it.
On top of possible chemical imbalances, traumatic events, genetic factors and of course adolescence, I’d say kids today do have an awful lot to be anxious about. With so many ways to access ‘stories’ (careful omission of the word news there), the unknown is rife.
Our kids have absolutely no clarity in what they are going to have to take on when we all draw our pensions. Perhaps along with mental health, ‘media and political resilience’ should also be added to the curriculum.
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