In Quebec, nearly 20 per cent of the population – or 1 in 5 people – will have a mental illness in their lifetime. Yet less than half of those with a problem end up seeking professional help.

Because of this, the Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux (MSSS) is holding an awareness campaign with the goal of encouraging those with symptoms of a possible anxiety disorder, and their loved ones, to get information and seek help.

With this year’s campaign, the MSSS is also looking to inform the public that anxiety disorders can begin early in a person’s life, and it’s important to detect them early in order to better cope with the symptoms. That being said, there are important differences that distinguish the normal, everyday anxieties that people face and pathological anxiety, such as an anxiety disorder, which requires professional help. So by being better informed of the symptoms, people and parents will be able to tell the difference and whether their loved one is struggling.

Anxiety disorders, for example, can begin early in a person's life. Therefore, the earlier the treatment of this condition begins, the better the chances of recovery. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders in children. It’s estimated that 6-to-13 per cent of children and adolescents are affected, with girls receiving this diagnosis more often than boys.

According to the MSSS, it’s natural to feel some level of anxiety in certain occasions, for example when experiencing a major life change such as a marriage or divorce. It’s also normal to be anxious the day before an exam, during a job interview or during a sporting event.

Anxiety becomes a problem when: the feeling doesn’t disappear when the worrying situation returns to normal; the symptoms cause a significant level of distress; the anxiety happens without any reason and is unrelated to what’s going on in a person’s life; it continually worries the person; it prevents the person from functioning and acting normally at work, in society or in other areas of daily life.

Anxiety disorders need to be treated seriously, because they are diseases that can be cured. There are recognized treatments for dealing with these disorders, and resources and information exists to help people and their loved ones cope and find the treatment they need.

In children, the symptoms of a possible anxiety disorder can take on other forms compared to adults. Young children can have difficulty understanding their feelings, such as worry or fear. It’s because of this confusion that they can react with exaggeration when they’re afraid. It’s up to the adults in their life to help them cope with their feelings and figure out what’s going on.

Because anxiety disorders can begin in childhood, early detection of their symptoms can help increase the chances of recovery. The most common signs of anxiety in children are: sleep disorders, loss of appetite, refusal to attend school or participate in sports activities, difficulty in making friends, as well as certain physical symptoms such as stomach aches, vomiting or fatigue. Sometimes, children can also feel fear much more intensely than other children of the same age, which leads them to avoid certain situations.

There’s still a stigma regarding mental health and seeking help for mental health issues, even though attitudes towards anxiety disorders is slowly improving. Awareness campaigns such as this one are important in addressing the discrimination associated with mental illness, in addition to encouraging individuals with symptoms of anxiety disorders and their loved ones to seek information and seek help promptly, if necessary.

If anxiety causes a person to experience distress regularly and affects her ability to function normally at work, in society, or in other areas, she may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are real and treatment should be considered soon after the first symptoms are revealed.

For more information on anxiety disorders, visit the website of the Ministère de la Santé et des services sociaux.