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Children and Adolescents With Anxiety Disorders (page 2)

— Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Updated on Dec 16, 2008

How common are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental, emotional, and behavioral problems to occur during childhood and adolescence. About 13 of every 100 children and adolescents ages 9 to 17 experience some kind of anxiety disorder; girls are affected more than boys.1 About half of children and adolescents with anxiety disorders have a second anxiety disorder or other mental or behavioral disorder, such as depression. In addition, anxiety disorders may coexist with physical health conditions requiring treatment.

Who is at risk?

Researchers have found that the basic temperament of young people may play a role in some childhood and adolescent anxiety disorders. For example, some children tend to be very shy and restrained in unfamiliar situations, a possible sign that they are at risk for developing an anxiety disorder. Research in this area is very complex, because children's fears often change as they age.

Researchers also suggest watching for signs of anxiety disorders when children are between the ages of 6 and 8. During this time, children generally grow less afraid of the dark and imaginary creatures and become more anxious about school performance and social relationships. An excessive amount of anxiety in children this age may be a warning sign for the development of anxiety disorders later in life.

Studies suggest that children or adolescents are more likely to have an anxiety disorder if they have a parent with anxiety disorders. However, the studies do not prove whether the disorders are caused by biology, environment, or both. More data are needed to clarify whether anxiety disorders can be inherited.

What help is available for young people with anxiety disorders?

Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders can benefit from a variety of treatments and services. Following an accurate diagnosis, possible treatments include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral treatment, in which young people learn to deal with fears by modifying the ways they think and behave;
  • Relaxation techniques;
  • Biofeedback (to control stress and muscle tension);
  • Family therapy;
  • Parent training; and
  • Medication.
While cognitive-behavioral approaches are effective in treating some anxiety disorders, medications work well with others. Some people with anxiety disorders benefit from a combination of these treatments. More research is needed to determine what treatments work best for the various types of anxiety disorders.

What can parents do?

If parents or other caregivers notice repeated symptoms of an anxiety disorder in their child or adolescent, they should:

  • Talk with the child's health care provider. He or she can help to determine whether the symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder or by some other condition and can also provide a referral to a mental health professional.
  • Look for a mental health professional trained in working with children and adolescents, who has used cognitive-behavioral or behavior therapy and has prescribed medications for this disorder, or has cooperated with a physician who does.
  • Get accurate information from libraries, hotlines, or other sources.
  • Ask questions about treatments and services.
  • Talk with other families in their communities.
  • Find family network organizations.
People who are not satisfied with the mental health care they receive should discuss their concerns with the provider, ask for information, and/or seek help from other sources.

This is one of many fact sheets in a series on children's mental health disorders. All the fact sheets listed below are written in an easy-to-read style. Families, caretakers, and media professionals may find them helpful when researching particular mental health disorders. To obtain free copies, call 1-800-789-2647 or visit http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/child.Back to Top

Important Messages About Children's and Adolescents' Mental Health

  • Every child's mental health is important.
  • Many children have mental health problems.
  • These problems are real and painful and can be severe.
  • Mental health problems can be recognized and treated.
  • Caring families and communities working together can help.

Mental Health Resources on the Internet

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov

ClinicalTrials.gov, National Institutes of Health
http://clinicaltrials.gov/

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov

National Institute of Mental Health
www.nimh.nih.gov

For information about children's mental health, contact SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center:

Toll-free: 800-789-2647
Fax: 240-747-5470
TDD: 866-889-2647

Systems of Care

Individual help is available for children diagnosed with severe anxiety through community-based systems of care. Systems of care help children with serious emotional disturbances and their families overcome obstacles associated with difficult mental health, emotional, and behavioral problems. To learn more about systems of care, call 301-443-1333, or to request a free fact sheet on systems of care, call 1-800-789-2647.

Endnotes

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1999). Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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