Children and Anxiety Disorders

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Today marks the end of National Children's Mental Health Awareness Week (May 1-7) and as part of this awareness we are going to talk about children and anxiety disorders. Although we tend to think of anxiety as symptom associated with adults, many children also suffer from an anxiety related disorder. According to a Report of the Surgeon General: "The combined prevalence of the group of disorders known as anxiety disorders is higher than that of virtually all other mental disorders of childhood and adolescence (Costello et al., 1996)." The estimated prevalence of anxiety disorders in children ages 9-17 is 13 percent. For some individuals, anxiety begins in childhood and continues on into the adult years especially if left untreated. This is why such awareness campaigns exist. Early intervention for anxiety disorders in childhood is critical so that anxiety does not become unmanageable by the time the individual reaches adulthood.

The following is a list of anxiety disorders which may begin in childhood:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): If your child has generalized anxiety disorder he or she may worry excessively and seek constant reassurance. They may complain about ailments such as headaches, stomach aches and fatigue. It is reported that approximately half of all adults who seek treatment for GAD report that symptoms began in childhood or adolescence.

  • Separation Anxiety Disorder:   If your child is over four years old and still becomes distressed, tearful, and clingy when you leave, your child may suffer from this anxiety disorder. Children who have separation anxiety disorder may be afraid to go to school, camp, or sleep-overs. They may also have trouble sleeping and want the parent to be in the same room when they sleep. It is estimated that up to 4 percent of children and young adolescents suffer from separation anxiety disorder. Although this type of anxiety disorder is considered a disorder of childhood it can persist into the adult years. In a previous post I wrote about how adult separation anxiety disorder is more prevalent for adults than for children. In some cases separation anxiety disorder of childhood is the precursor of panic disorder with agoraphobia in adulthood.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder:   Children who suffer from social anxiety disorder have a persistent fear of being embarrassed in public social situations. They may avoid situations where they have to talk to unfamiliar people, eat in front of others, raise their hand to answer questions in school, or perform in front of others. Social anxiety disorder or as it is sometimes called, social phobia, can persist into adulthood.

These are just a few of the anxiety disorders of childhood which may continue on into adulthood. Other anxiety related disorders of childhood include: Phobias,   panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.

If you suspect that your child may have an anxiety disorder it is time to reach out for help. You can begin the process by speaking to your child's pediatrician about your concerns. If necessary you may then get a referral for your child to be seen to be seen by a child psychologist, pediatric neurologist, or other specialist. School personnel may also be helpful in assisting you with ideas for how to obtain counseling for your child. Remember that whatever your child is going through, there is treatment and there is support.

Resources for Anxiety Disorders in Childhood

Articles and Information about Anxiety Disorders in Children from Health Central