High anxieties: the social construction of anxiety disorders

Can J Psychiatry. 2009 Jul;54(7):429-36. doi: 10.1177/070674370905400703.


Anxiety has always been part of the human condition, with accounts of its various manifestations, including acute shyness and stage fright, dating back to classical antiquity. Nonetheless, since the end of the Second World War, reported levels of anxiety have risen alarmingly. At the beginning of the 21st century, anxiety disorders constitute the most prevalent mental health problem around the globe, afflicting millions of people. What social factors account for this stunning development in the mental health field during the past half century? Some observers target the ever increasing pace and demands of modern life. Nonetheless, a larger body of evidence suggests that the prevalence of anxiety is due less to these pressures themselves than to a prevailing social ethos that teaches people that anxiety-related symptoms are a socially and medically legitimate response to life in the modern age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Canada
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Mass Media
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Phobic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy
  • Self Care / psychology
  • Social Change*
  • Social Conformity*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Suggestion*