National Anxiety Levels Are Rising, Baby Boomers Report Biggest Increase

Anita Everett, MD

The levels of anxiety in the United States appear to have sharply risen in the last year, with the Baby Boomer generation reporting the highest increases, according to new data from the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

In total, 1000 adults in the US were polled about their anxiety in 5 areas—health, safety, finances, relationships, and politics—with increases revealed in every area. This national anxiety score is composed of the mean scores on a scale of 0 to 100, with the national average this year jumping up 5 points since 2017, to 51. In total, 39% of those polled said they are more anxious now than they were last year.

“This poll shows US adults are increasingly anxious particularly about health, safety and finances. That increased stress and anxiety can significantly impact many aspects of people’s lives, including their mental health, and it can affect families,” Anita Everett, MD, the president of the APA, said in a statement. “It highlights the need to help reduce the effects of stress with regular exercise, relaxation, healthy eating and time with friends and family.”

When examined at the generational level, millennials reported being more anxious than Gen Xers or Baby Boomers, as has been the case in previous years, but the Baby Boomer anxiety level made a 7-point jump between 2017 and 2018, the biggest of the generations polled.

The biggest area where there was an increase was in the financial section, with respondents revealing they were most anxious about paying their bills. Approximately 75% of women, 75% of adults aged 18–34, and 80% of Hispanic adults were either somewhat anxious or extremely anxious about bills.

Among the genders, women reported higher rates of anxiety than men, and also had a larger increase in anxiety from last year to this year. All told, 57% of the women between the ages 18 and 49 that were polled stated that they were more anxious than in 2017, compared to only 38% of men in the same age group. That gap between the genders was also represented in the population aged 50 and older, with 39% of women reporting more anxiety in 2018 compared to 24% of men.

Among ethnicities in the US, people of color reported 11-point higher scores on the anxiety index than their Caucasian counterparts. Americans also expressed almost identical concerns about their health, safety, and bills, but slightly less so in regard to politics and relationships. Those insured with Medicaid report higher anxiety than those with private insurance.

The poll also explored the attitudes and perceptions about mental health and treatment of these conditions, with the majority of Americans (86%) stating that they believed mental health impacts their physical health, up 7% since 2017. Additionally, 75% of those polled declared that mental health, when untreated, can have a significant impact on the nation’s economy.

Interestingly, while roughly half of the adults polled believe there is less stigma against those with mental illnesses than a decade ago, upward of 33% reported that they would not vote for a candidate for public office if they had been diagnosed with a mental illness, even if they had received treatment.

The findings were from an APA-sponsored online poll that was conducted using ORC International’s CARAVAN Omnibus Survey. Data were collected form a sample representative of the US, including 1004 adults from March 22 to 25, 2018 and compared with a poll of 1019 adults completed from April 20 to 23, 2017. The margin of error was reported as ±3.1 percentage points.

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