The world got to know Zayn Malik as the cute young man who sang and danced in boyband One Direction, and millions of teenage girls were devastated when he left the band. With his brooding good looks and successful career, Zayn seemed to have it all before he had even left his early twenties. However, life was not as glittering as it seemed. Subsequently, Zayn has opened up about his struggle with anxiety disorder, which he attributes to the decision to quit and to the difficulties he faced when he started trying to launch a solo career.
A couple of years on, Zayn is a strong advocate for the millions who suffer from this condition (about 16% of the UK population struggles with anxiety issues) by giving it a public face and being honest and upfront about how it has impacted on him in a wide variety of ways. By speaking out loud and proud about his own struggles, Zayn has shown a generation of young people that having a psychological disorder is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Although various people suggested that he pretend that he was ill when his condition stopped him from performing, he felt strongly that it was important to be honest, describing anxiety as something that “swells up and blocks out your rational thought processes”.
Zayn says that he was really surprised by how many people got in touch to tell them that they suffer from anxiety disorder too – but as a therapist this comes as no surprise to me, as in my day to day clinical practice I have seen for myself how common it is. We live in a stressful world, and there is pressure from every angle. Even when we are safely at home, modern media can intrude, introducing anxiety into our lives in new ways.
Zayn may be just one of millions of sufferers, but because he is such a public figure, we need to recognise what a great, and brave, thing he has done in being so upfront about his challenges in the area of anxiety. By doing so, and by admitting that he has needed help, Zayn can inspire others with the same condition to reach out and find the support they need to build happy, fulfilled lives. Moreover, by deciding to confront his condition “head on” rather than pretending that there is nothing wrong or hiding it behind a smokescreen, Zayn has already started on the journey towards a better future, and it is likely that he will one day be able to overcome his anxiety definitively.
Nobody can deal successfully with anxiety disorder by pretending that there is nothing wrong, and trying to deal with it on their own. There is true strength in realising that it is time to reach out for help, and to engage with that help when it is available.
While anxiety disorder is a common condition that many of us will suffer at some point in our lives, it should definitely not be dismissed as “just one of those things”. Anxiety can cripple people, causing them to avoid social situations or work, or to avoid engaging in relationships that they would really enjoy, and seriously inhibiting their chances of having a happy and fulfilled life. The good news is that it is extremely treatable, and sufferers can make progress in this area very quickly with a good therapist who will help them to develop the coping skills they need and to build on their latent social abilities.
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