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Anxiety is affecting NZ women’s health

20 September 2017

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety and it is affecting women’s health more severely than heart disease and kidney failure, new guidelines developed by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) reveal.

One in five New Zealand adults suffer from an anxiety disorder in any given year with international research showing it causes more days off work than diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular, respiratory and substance disorders.

“Most of us worry at times about things going wrong but generally we can temporarily dismiss the worries and get on with the task at hand. However, when anxiety interferes with sleep, relationships and work it can greatly affect the quality of our lives and can be difficult to control without treatment,” the President of the RANZCP, Dr Kym Jenkins said.

Unlike the 2003 guidelines which advocated Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and antidepressant medication as the first line of treatment, the new guidelines promote a stepped care approach to treating anxiety disorders that begins with the least intrusive treatment approach such as internet-guided CBT.

If symptoms do not respond to this approach, the second line of treatment is then face-to face CBT with a clinician and, if after 6 weeks there is no progress, antidepressant medication is considered.

“It is important to note that anxiety can be treated but it does take time. Often people have had anxiety for years before seeking help and their most acute need is appropriate reassurance that their anxiety disorder has been recognized and that they can be assisted,” Dr Jenkins said.

“In high arousal situations, such as real danger, anxiety will make you focus on the threat and act quickly to escape or ward off danger but the problem with persistent high anxiety is that it can reduce a person’s ability to think, plan and do complex tasks and these prolonged pronounced states of anxiety can be very disabling.”

The clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder will be presented at the New Zealand Conference of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in Tauranga from 25 to 27 September.

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The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is a membership organisation that prepares medical specialists in the field of psychiatry, supports and enhances clinical practice, advocates for people affected by mental illness and advises governments on mental health care. For information about our work, our members or our history, visit