A new awareness campaign starting today will urge anxiety sufferers and the wider community to regard the condition not just as a character trait, but as a serious and treatable mental health issue.

Beyondblue, the "national depression initiative", is expanding its focus to include anxiety and has recruited actor Ben Mendelsohn to spearhead its Get to Know Anxiety campaign.

The push is aimed at addressing what beyondblue says is a lack of awareness about symptoms of anxiety and carries the slogan: "You have to know anxiety to be free of it."

The campaign is underscored by statistics suggesting just 12 per cent of Australians regard anxiety as a major mental health problem, compared with 58 per cent that view depression as one.

Figures from Roy Morgan Research suggest 2.44 million Australians - or 13.8 per cent - experienced an anxiety condition in the past 12 months, compared with 9.9 per cent in 2008.

Beyondblue chief executive Kate Carnell said it was impossible to know whether the prevalence or reporting of anxiety - or both - were on the increase but suggested the lack of "down time" in modern life was having an impact.

Ms Carnell said symptoms of anxiety - including increased heart rate, crippling fear of crowded places and obsessive compulsive behaviour - were different from normal stresses, such as apprehension before an exam.

She said beyondblue's website contained facts about anxiety and treatment options.

There was also a link to a short film featuring Mendelsohn outlining the symptoms and challenging sufferers to do something about them.

WA Mental Health Minister Helen Morton said she hoped the campaign would prevent anxiety sufferers "medicating" themselves with drugs or alcohol.

Australian Medical Association WA psychiatry spokeswoman Dr Alexandra Welborn said exercise was crucial in fighting anxiety.

The AMA is calling on the State to employ 72 more public psychiatrists.

The West Australian

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