Anxiety Disorders

| Parent Resources

Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders typically experience intense fear, worry, or uneasiness that can last for long periods of time and significantly affect their lives. If not treated early, anxiety disorders can lead to:

  • Repeated school absences or an inability to finish school;
  • Impaired relations with peers;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Alcohol or other drug use;
  • Problems adjusting to work situations; and
  • Anxiety disorder in adulthood.

(This information is made available by the National Mental Health Information Center)

Symptoms Include:
Excessive anxiety and worry, occurring more days than not for at least six months, about a number of events or activities. The anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following six symptoms:

  • restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge,
  • being easily fatigued,
  • difficulty concentrating,
  • irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance.

(This information is made available by DSM-IV TR on Generalized Anxiety Disorder)

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.

(This information is made available by the National Mental Health Information Center)