A global epidemic of anxiety

“It was 30 years ago this year that anxiety was first recognized as its own mental disorder,” says UPEI’s Dr. Ian Dowbiggin. “Today, it is diagnosed in more than three million Canadians. The World Health Organization says we have a global epidemic of anxiety in the 21st century.”

Dowbiggin is a Professor of History at UPEI, and author of several books and articles on the history of medicine, including "High Anxieties: The Social Construction of Anxiety Disorders," in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. He’ll discuss some of his theories behind where the epidemic comes from at the next Research on Tap (details here).

“Before 1980, people who we today classify as having an anxiety disorder would have been lumped under the umbrella of depression,” says Dowbiggin. “But that reclassification doesn’t explain the explosion of anxiety in the decades since. I have some ideas.”

Dowbiggin blames what he calls our “illness-breeding”, and “illness-affirming” culture.

“We live in an age that is inherently stressful,” says Dowbiggin. “Students worry about grades. Parents worry about losing their jobs. We’re nervous about our relationships. Many are afraid of flying, or public speaking, or identity theft. I read an article the other day that said many people are experiencing anxiety about the fluctuating price of housing in the United States! The society we created for ourselves to live in is stressful.”

At the same time, Dowbiggin argues we’ve made it socially acceptable to feel anxious about our lives.

“And this is controversial,” says Dowbiggin. “Anxiety, I believe, has become a badge of honour. People go on Oprah, or Dr. Phil, and confess their anxiety, and are publicly validated. There is no stigma anymore to feeling powerless over our lives. Fifty or a hundred years ago, we would have told ourselves to suck it up and deal with it. Today, we say it’s okay to feel this way. And, by the way, here’s some medication for your problems.”

Psychiatric drug use, Dowbiggin explains, has gone up along with the diagnoses of anxiety. He says it’s very easy to be diagnosed, and the treatment is counselling, and drugs.

“Take a Prozac. Take a Zoloft. You’ll feel less anxious. But have we gone too far? Is this natural? Or, are we living lives that are much more stressful than our ancestors? The pharmaceutical companies call some forms of social phobia ‘allergic to people.’ Can you imagine? I think it’s worth asking whether we believe that what’s called the ‘caring industry’ has taken over.”

Join Dr. Dowbiggin for the next Research on Tap, Tuesday, October 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mavor’s Bar in the Confederation Centre of the Arts. His discussion is titled “Why are we so anxious these days? Living in an illness-breeding and illness-affirming culture.” 

Photo used under a Creative Commons agreement.

"We couldn't help but make a few recommendations…."

 The Atlantic Seniors Housing Research Alliance (ASHRA) was a ground-breaking research group that gave new insights into the housing conditions and needs of seniors living in Atlantic Canada. UPEI's Dr. Lori Weeks is using ASHRA’s data to create a similar report for Prince Edward Island.

“I think people will definitely be surprised by some of our findings,” says Weeks, Associate Professor of Family and Nutritional Sciences at UPEI. “We’ll be releasing them this fall, after we’ve had a chance to share them with our stakeholders. There is a real gap between what many seniors can afford to pay, and what the actual cost of housing is, especially in Charlottetown.”

Weeks cites a recommendation from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) that seniors spend no more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.

“Spending higher than that can mean seniors have a harder time affording things like food and health supplies,” explains Weeks. “In PEI, more than two in five seniors pay more than 30 per cent on housing, and a small percentage of those spend 40 per cent or more. It’s alarming.”

Much of this, Weeks explains, is due to the high cost of renting in the province’s capital.

“The average apartment in Charlottetown rents for $722 a month,” she says, “which is very high compared to the rest of the province. And many seniors choose to live in Charlottetown to be closer to doctors and services.”

Weeks says public housing is an option for some, but the waiting list is high—more than 250 seniors are on the list for Charlottetown alone.

“There’s also a real stigma attached to living in public housing,” says Weeks. “Many won’t apply who need to, because they’re embarrassed by what people might think.”

Weeks’ final report, co-researched and written with Lorraine Begley, will contain data about seniors and their housing needs across Prince Edward Island.

“We couldn’t help but make a few recommendations,” says Weeks. “I’ll wait until the report is released to discuss them all, but it does make sense to recommend some sort of public subsidy of privately owned apartment units. It would take care of the demand issue, and help remove the stigma of living in public housing.”

The full report will be released this fall.

Photo credit.

"UPEI researchers are making a difference"

 The University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) signed an agreement to license medical research technologies to CNS CRO, a subsidiary of biotechnology company Neurodyn Inc.

The agreement includes innovative technologies to be used in drug development and drug-testing for stroke, epilepsy, and schizophrenia.


“This is the product of research we’ve been conducting over the past ten years,” says Dr. Andrew Tasker, Professor of Neuropharmacology, and Director of the Atlantic Centre for Comparative Biomedical Research at UPEI’s Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC). “The lead researchers involved in developing these technologies come from three separate departments in three separate faculties across UPEI. I think it speaks to the strength and potential of neuroscience at UPEI, the value of interdisciplinary approaches to science, and the spirit of collaboration in the research community here.”


The UPEI research team includes Dr. Tasker (Biomedical Sciences), Dr. Tracy Doucette (Biology), Dr. Catherine Ryan (Psychology), and Ms. Melissa Perry (Biomedical Sciences) as well as many post-doctoral, graduate and undergraduate students and research technicians.


“Just two weeks ago, we announced UPEI’s first-ever licensing agreement with an outside body,” says Dr. Katherine Schultz, UPEI’s Vice-President of Research & Development. “Today, we celebrate our second. UPEI researchers are making a difference. This announcement rests on years of skilled investigation and consideration of real-world problems. We commend these innovators for the advances they have made and are very pleased to be working with our partners at CNS CRO and Neurodyn.”


The agreement licenses four pieces of medical technology developed at UPEI to CNS CRO, which will use it in pre-clinical testing of compounds that have shown promise as drugs for stroke, epilepsy, and schizophrenia.


Neurodyn CEO Ken Cawkell says, “CNS-CRO is extremely pleased with the successful conclusion of these licensing negotiations, through which the company has gained access to UPEI's world class animal models of CNS disease. Together with our existing models, the CNS-CRO suite of leading edge drug

discovery tools clearly differentiates the CNS CRO offering from that of existing CRO service providers.”


Today’s agreement was facilitated and negotiated by Three Oaks Innovations, Inc. – UPEI’s independent spin-off company with the mandate of helping university-created technologies and innovations make their way into real-world business applications.


“We are excited to have been a part of initiating the process and coordinating the follow-through that led to this deal,” says Sophie Theriault, Director of Technology Transfer and Commercialization Coordination at Three Oaks Innovations. “These are technologies that will make a real difference for people whose lives are affected by stroke, schizophrenia, and epilepsy. It’s also gratifying to know CNS CRO will carry out this research on Prince Edward Island, and have a real impact on the province's economic development and sustainability.”





Media Contact:

Dave Atkinson, Research Communications Officer, UPEI
(902) 620-5117, (902) 388-0062, or 


Sophie Theriault, Director of Technology Transfer and Commercialization Coordination, Three Oaks Innovations, Inc.
(902) 566-6095, or 


Photo: Dr. Andrew Tasker (Biomedical Sciences, AVC), Dr. Tracy Doucette (Biology), Dr. Catherine Ryan (Psychology), Ms. Melissa Perry (Biomedical Sciences, AVC)