One in five Australians believes people with anxiety 'put it on' – Sydney Morning Herald

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Beyondblue: An interview with Oliver Shawyer

Get to know anxiety personal stories: snowballing worries. Video: beyondblue

Sitting at his desk at work, Oliver Shawyer would get so anxious he thought he was having a heart attack.

“I’d get uncontrollable perspiration, an increased heart rate and then horrible chest pain,” the 30-year-old Sydney advertising executive said.

“The only way I could deal with it at the time was by inflicting pain to distract my mind. To stop myself from crying, I would just dig my fingers right into my legs”.

Oliver Shawyer suffers from anxiety.

Oliver Shawyer suffers from anxiety. Photo: Michele Mossop

Mr Shawyer is one of up to 2 million Australians who have anxiety, the most common mental health condition in the country.

New research has revealed that one in five Australians believes people with anxiety are “putting it on”.

The research, which is to be released by charity beyondblue on Monday, also shows more than 10 per cent of Australians aged between 30 and 34 believe people with anxiety are untrustworthy.

Guy Pearce knows anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of their age, their employment or where they live.

Guy Pearce knows anxiety can affect anyone, regardless of their age, their employment or where they live.

Beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman said anxiety was not just feeling stressed or worried.

“It is when these feelings don’t subside and are ongoing without any particular reason or cause. Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but for someone experiencing anxiety, these feelings can’t be easily controlled,” she said.

The survey of more than 1200 Australians reveals that damaging attitudes and discrimination against those suffering from anxiety remain.

Almost half agree that people with anxiety are judged or discriminated against.

More than 15 per cent of males do not want to work with someone with anxiety, the research has found.

“It’s alarming,” said Mr Shawyer, who after years of treatment has brought his anxiety under control.

“I can remember some mornings when I felt like I was going to die, and sometimes that feels like it might be better, but in the end you can get to a place where you can have a fulfilling life,” he said.

“I can’t hide my story, anyone who knows me is well aware of where I have been.”

Australian actor Guy Pearce knows Mr Shawyer’s story well, having suffered from anxiety.

“I have lived with anxiety ever since being a child and know how easy it is to be overwhelmed by the physical and mental symptoms,” he said.

“I know it can affect anyone regardless of their age, their employment or where they live.”

Ms Harman said beyondblue was working towards tackling negative perceptions in the third year of its campaign.

“It is not just the relatively small number of harmful and incorrect attitudes we are working to change, but the larger proportion of the public who are unaware that anxiety can be effectively managed and treated,” she said.

Despite some positive changes, Mr Shawyer said there was a lot more to do before Australia could shed the macho stigma around anxiety and weakness.

“As a nation, our acceptance is a lot further downstream than what it was, but there is very long way to go,” he said.

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