Thursday, 17 November 2011 23:31

Anxiety in children

Written by  Dr. Deborah G Mishek
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Anxiety is one of the most common psychiatric disorders in children (http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/childhood-anxiety-disorders). Some large studies have demonstrated that clinically significant anxiety occurs in anywhere from 6-20% of children.
The most common related disorders in children include:
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Social phobias
  • Separation anxiety
  • Specific phobias
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Post traumatic stress disorder 
These disorders can impact children emotionally, academically and socially. Research has shown an association between anxiety and educational underachievement, drug and alcohol use, and difficulties in social and peer relations.
 
Generalized anxiety is persistant anxiety and worry that is not specific and may be difficult to control.  It can involve schoolwork, social situations, and world issues.  To others, it may not seem rational which makes it hard for family members to understand.  Social phobia is significant and persistent fear of social settings or performance situations.  This can cause avoidant behavior or severe anxiety.  This can affect individuals in class, extra-curricular activities or even when eating out at a restaurant. Children may have difficulty answering questions in class, reading aloud, initiating conversations, talking with unfamiliar people, and attending parties and social events.  Unlike generalized anxiety, social anxiety tends to resolve when they are not in these situations. Separation anxiety is excessive and developmentally inappropriate anxiety concerning separation from home or significant people. Children may exhibit distress in anticipation of or during attempts at separation. They worry excessively about their own or their parents’ safety and health when separated, may exhibit school refusal, have difficulty sleeping alone, have nightmares, and often complain of not feeling well. This is most prevalent in children between 7 and 9 years of age and is often seen with other psychiatric diagnoses. (http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/the_anxious_child)
 
This link shows the prevalence of anxiety disorders in teenagers -http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1ANYANX_child.shtml 
 
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and some medications (selective serotonin inhibitors) have been shown to be very helpful in reducing the symptoms of anxiety.  Often the two are combined.  There is significant evidence to support both of these interventions in decreasing anxiety but the combination of both may be most helpful.  Parent education and support are also important because the anxiety can impact the entire family.


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