Understanding Anxiety Disorders in Children
Anxiety disorders can bring about extreme feelings of fear and worry, affecting not only the mood and sleep patterns of children, but also influencing their behavior. These disorders, prevalent in both children and adults, often coexist with other conditions, particularly those impacting children with special health care needs. Approximately 7% of children aged 3-17 in the United States are diagnosed with anxiety. Shockingly, nearly half of children with special needs are estimated to be affected, with a prevalence 25% higher than typically developing children.
Various factors contribute to the development of anxiety disorders in children. Genetics may play a role, as some children inherit genes that may cause changes in brain chemistry, making them more susceptible to anxiety. Stressful life situations, such as an illness or the loss of a loved one, can also trigger anxiety. Additionally, anxiety may be associated with other health conditions like hyperthyroidism or seizure disorders. Traumatic events during childhood can also contribute to anxiety.
Recognizing when general anxiety becomes a significant issue is crucial for seeking appropriate help and support. Red flags include excessive anxiety, being out of proportion to the stressor, disrupting normal functioning and day-to-day behavior, and being atypical for the child’s developmental age. If these signs persist for several months or longer, it may be time to consider professional assistance.
Treatment is vital, as only one-third of patients with anxiety disorders will improve without intervention. Various professionals may be involved in helping your children, including primary care doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, counselors, and school psychologists. Counseling can be beneficial for building skills to manage and reduce mild-to-moderate anxiety.
For moderate-to-severe anxiety, medications may be necessary and can also address symptoms caused by anxiety. Additionally, medications may assist in managing other medical conditions contributing to or caused by the anxiety disorder. Seeking timely and appropriate help is crucial in ensuring the well-being of children grappling with anxiety disorders.
Mindfulness meditation is another helpful tool parents can teach their children to help manage distracting thoughts and reduce stress. A national survey found that 38% of young adults 14-22 years old experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression are using stress and anxiety-reducing apps to help them feel better. [Rideout: 2018] Visit the Medical Home Portal for a list of apps available.
*The Home Medical Portal has provided this information as a service and does not endorse any apps specifically or receive reimbursement from app developers or sites.