Does your child have an anxiety disorder?

Does your child have an anxiety disorder?

Mental Health Awareness month

October is Mental Health Awareness month and the focus for the 2018 theme is: ‘Young people and mental health in a changing world.’

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) estimates that “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in South Africa and about 1 in 5 South Africans are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year”. Studies have shown that up to 10 per cent of kindergarten-aged children suffer from an anxiety disorder – a rate that jumps to more than 15 per cent of high-school students.

Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by physical symptoms such as palpitations, sweating, irritability, feelings of stress…and moodiness, stomachaches and headaches in smaller children.

The questions all parents should ask

Is your child more shy or anxious than other children his or her age? Is your child more worried than other children his or her age?

If the parent says ‘yes’ to [either] then there’s a high degree of predictability that the child will go on to develop an anxiety disorder. The research confirms that parents of anxious kids – who often suffer from anxiety themselves – are attuned to their child’s unusual behaviour.

If a child is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, one of the best things parents can do is to get treatment for underlying anxiety disorders they may have themselves. Parents can then act as role models in coping with anxiety. Early treatment for anxiety disorders increases the chances of “nipping it in the bud” if symptoms reappear later.

Managing and anxiety disorder

The most common anxiety disorders are specific phobias – an excessive fear of a specific object or situation, such as spiders, heights, flying, or closed spaces.

In social anxiety disorder (social phobia or performance anxiety), people are excessively fearful or anxious about social interactions or situations that may involve being observed or scrutinized. Panic attacks are common.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about many different areas that are hard to control. Worrying can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish daily tasks. Is often masked as ADD (attention deficit disorder).

Other anxiety disorders include separation anxiety disorder, selective mutism, agoraphobia (fear of being outside of the home in various situations), and panic disorder (recurring unexpected panic attacks and fear of having more panic attacks), which is more common in teenagers and adults.

New technologies are enabling scientists to learn more about the biological, psychological, and social factors that may cause anxiety disorders. With a better understanding of underlying causes, even better treatment and prevention of anxiety disorders will be closer at hand. For now, heredity, brain chemistry, personality, and life experiences, are all believed to play roles in the occurrence of anxiety disorders.

Treatment is usually a combination of play therapy or counselling and medication prescribed by the doctor or psychiatrist.  There is now a growing recognition of importance of helping young people build mental resilience at an early age. This helps adolescents cope with challenges of today’s world in a better way. Teaching young children how to manage anxiety increases their chances of building a positive self identity.

While parents of anxious children often say, “We’re a family of worriers,” the goal is to turn that self-talk around, so that with practice, the child will internalize the message that “I can be confident and brave no matter what.”

Article written by Philippa Fabbri – Director of Elsen Academy. She is currently completing her PhD in Inclusive Education and studying particularly, anxiety disorder in children.