The UK is currently facing a youth anxiety epidemic, where there has been an 8.3% rise in self-reported anxiety in 16-24 year-olds since 2000, 5.2% higher than any other generation in society (APMS NHS 2014). This PhD aims to explain why this is the case.
One problem that we face when attempting to understand the youth anxiety epidemic is that anxiety itself is an ambiguous concept, sitting on a spectrum anywhere between a transitory, everyday experience to a recurrent, life-interfering problem. Given this ambiguity, we need to determine what exactly the self-reports of these young people are pointing to.
Therefore, a primary focus of my PhD is to conduct a linguistic analysis to determine how we are actually using the terms ‘anxious’ and ‘anxiety’ in a natural setting. This analysis should then provide insight into both first-hand experiences and conceptions of anxiety. Although linguistic analyses like this are being conducted for conditions such as depression and anorexia, (e.g., Hunt & Brookes, 2020), they have not yet been undertaken for the ambiguous phenomenon of anxiety. Through this study, I aim to show the distinct discourses of anxiety that available, and how to identify them in practice. A major implication of this work is that we then ought to be able to use this linguistic analysis as a tool to identify those who require more immediate intervention.
My linguistic analysis should also highlight potential conceptual problems within the philosophy of anxiety, which I will be exploring through subsequent papers.