The age of anxiety? It depends where you look: changes in STAI trait anxiety, 1970-2010
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KünyeBooth, R. W., Sharma, D., & Leader, T. I. (2016). The age of anxiety? it depends where you look: Changes in STAI trait anxiety, 1970–2010. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(2), 193-202. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00127-015-1096-0
Purpose Population-level surveys suggest that anxiety has been increasing in several nations, including the USA and UK. We sought to verify the apparent anxiety increases by looking for systematic changes in mean anxiety questionnaire scores from research publications. Methods We analyzed all available mean State–Trait Anxiety Inventory scores published between 1970 and 2010. We collected 1703 samples, representing more than 205,000 participants from 57 nations. Results Results showed a significant anxiety increase worldwide, but the pattern was less clear in many individual nations. Our analyses suggest that any increase in anxiety in the USA and Canada may be limited to students, anxiety has decreased in the UK, and has remained stable in Australia. Conclusions Although anxiety may have increased worldwide, it might not be increasing as dramatically as previously thought, except in specific populations, such as North American students. Our results seem to contradict survey results from the USA and UK in particular. We do not claim that our results are more reliable than those of large population surveys. However, we do suggest that mental health surveys and other governmental sources of disorder prevalence data may be partially biased by changing attitudes toward mental health: if respondents are more aware and less ashamed of their anxiety, they are more likely to report it to survey takers. Analyses such as ours provide a useful means of double-checking apparent trends in large population surveys.