It’s never going to be fun, but it can be healthy – and facing up to it is always better than hiding
Dr Tracy Dennis-Tiwary was a professor of psychology, immersed in research – evaluating which mental health treatments worked and why – when she first became aware of an uptick in anxiety. This was some 15 years ago in New York City. ‘I work closely with practising clinicians and I remember one of them saying, ‘I’m seeing all these parents and kids coming in and they’re talking about anxiety the way we used to talk about stress,’’ she says. ‘Everything is about anxiety.’
Back then, Dennis-Tiwary believed treatments would make a difference. ‘I thought we were going to claw this back, but the opposite happened.’ Instead, that uptick became an avalanche. Today, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issues in the US, affecting 30% of adults. In the UK, prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications have almost doubled over the past 15 years, with a sharp rise among the under-25s (in the US, says Dennis-Tiwary, prescriptions have quadrupled). In 2021, a survey of 8,000 children led Oxford University Press to name anxiety as the ‘word of the year’.