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Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents
What are Anxiety Disorders?
Young people with anxiety disorders typically are so afraid, worried, or uneasy that they cannot function normally. Anxiety disorders can be long-lasting and interfere greatly with a child's life. If not treated early, anxiety disorders can lead to:
What are the Signs of an Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Children and adolescents with this disorder experience extreme, unrealistic worry that does not seem to be related to any recent event. Typically, these young people are very self-conscious, feel tense, have a strong need for reassurance, and complain about stomachaches or other discomforts that don't appear to have any physical basis.
Phobias: A phobia is an unrealistic and excessive fear of some situation or object. Some phobias, called specific phobias, center on animals, storms, water, heights, or situations, such as being in an enclosed space. Children and adolescents with social phobias are terrified of being criticized or judged harshly by others. Because young people with phobias will try to avoid the objects and situations that they fear, the disorder can greatly restrict their lives.
Panic Disorder: Panic disorder is marked by repeated panic attacks without apparent cause. Panic attacks are periods of intense fear accompanied by pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or a feeling of imminent death. The experience is so scary that the young person lives in dread of another attack. He or she may go to great lengths to avoid any situation that seems likely to bring on a panic attack. A child with a panic disorder may not want to go to school or be separated from his/her parents.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A child with obsessive-compulsive disorder becomes trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors. Even though the child may agree that the thoughts or behaviors appear senseless and distressing, the repetitions are very hard to stop. The compulsive behaviors may include repeated hand washing, counting, or arranging and rearranging objects.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop in children or adolescents after they experience a very stressful event. Such events may include physical or sexual abuse; being a victim or witnessing violence; or being caught in a disaster, such as a bombing or hurricane. Young people with post-traumatic stress disorder experience the event again and again in strong memories, flashbacks, or troublesome thoughts. As a result, the young person may try to avoid anything associated with the trauma. They may also overreact when startled or have difficulty sleeping.
What Help is Available for a Young Person with an Anxiety Disorder?:
Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders can benefit from a variety of treatments and services. After an accurate diagnosis, possible treatments include:
While cognitive-behavioral approaches are effecting in treating some anxiety disorders, medications work well with others. Some anxiety disorders benefit from a combination of these treatments. In general, more studies are needed to find which treatments work best for various types of anxiety disorders.
What Can Parents Do?
If a parent or caregiver notices repeated symptoms of an anxiety disorder in a child or adolescent, they should:
Reference: National Mental Health Association - *Licensure granted to re-print above information obtained from the National Mental Health Association on 1/29/03.
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