Beth Rowland was standing in her work canteen, midway through a routine team meeting, when it happened for the first time. As her boss enumerated all the tasks to be completed by her and her colleagues in her marketing job, the then 22-year-old began feeling overwhelmed. Thoughts about the domestic tasks she had to do were also crowding her mind. She had forgotten her packed lunch that morning. And had she left the iron on at home?
“It was a physical thing,” recalls the 24-year-old, who lives in Nottingham. “I could feel it rising up my chest. These worries were out of control in my head. I couldn’t listen to my boss or focus on anything else, and all of a sudden I blacked out.”
The next thing she remembers is lying on the floor, her concerned colleagues standing around her and asking her: “Beth, what’s going on? Are you ok?”
She did not know the answer herself. What was she doing on the floor? Had she fainted? Was she ill? “My heart and my mind were still racing,” she recalls, “and my colleagues were worried I wasn’t really in the room. I was quite scared.
They called NHS 111, and a fast response team was dispatched. The paramedics told her she was physically OK, but still she continued to shake and feel dizzy. She found herself in floods of uncontainable tears: “I couldn’t stop crying, and I didn’t know why.”
The struggles of many other young people have been less well-documented, but staff at Young Minds – which the Telegraph is supporting in its Christmas Charity Appeal this year – are all too aware of them. In the past year, its Parents Helpline has given practical advice and support to almost 13,000 concerned parents, including those who have watched in terror as their children have suffered from panic attacks.
Described by the NHS as a “rush of intense anxiety and physical symptoms”, these can come on suddenly and be caused by a wide range of triggers: exam stress, cyberbullying, fear of social situations, of heights or of being outside; or by thoughts such as “everyone hates me”. Sometime it’s not clear what the trigger is.
Symptoms can include shortness of breath, what feels like a racing heartbeat, sweating, trembling, a choking sensation, nausea, dizziness, tingling fingers and ringing in the ears. It is the body’s natural response to a perceived mental or physical danger, can come on very suddenly, last as long as 30 minutes – and can be utterly debilitating.
Anyone can be affected by panic attacks, but statistically you’re more likely to experience them if you suffer from a pre-existing mental health issue, such as depression, an anxiety disorder or substance misuse. For some, panic attacks can also lead to panic disorder, an anxiety disorder characterised by regular sudden attacks of panic or fear. More than one in every 100 five- to 19-year-olds suffers from panic disorder, NHS figures show. Again, the rate is higher among girls.
This content was originally published here.