Anxiety is useful for alerting us to danger, and moving us away from danger. And anxiety can give us the energy to get things done.
But anxiety also can become out of control, bringing a sense of dread and fear, sometimes for no apparent reason. This kind of anxiety can disrupt life. Even the life of a child.
For both children and adults, anxiety can be a general feeling of worry, a sudden attack of panicky feelings, a fear of a certain situation or a response to a traumatic experience.
With generalized anxiety disorder children or adolescents may experience extreme, unrealistic worry unrelated to recent events. They are often self-conscious and tense with a very strong need for reassurance. They may suffer from aches and pains that appear to have no physical basis.
Children and youths with panic disorder suffer repeated panic attacks without apparent cause. Periods of intense fear are accompanied by pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, nausea and/or feelings of dread or impending doom. Children and teens with panic disorder will go to great lengths to avoid a panic attack. This may mean refusal to attend school or to be separated from parents.
Social phobias often center on a fear of being watched, criticized or judged harshly by others. Because young people with phobias avoid the objects and situations they fear, this disorder can greatly restrict their lives. This fear can be so debilitating that it interferes with going to school.
With phobias, children and adolescents suffer from excessive fears centered on such things as animals, storms or natural disasters, riding in vehicles, or being in enclosed spaces.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder entails becoming trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors. These may include repeated hand washing, counting, or arranging and rearranging objects.
Post-traumatic stress disorder includes strong memories, flashbacks or troublesome thoughts of traumatic events. These may include physical or sexual abuse or being a victim or witness to violent events or disasters, such as a shooting, bombing, earthquake or other natural disaster. Young people with this disorder may wish to avoid anything associated with the trauma. They also tend to over-react when startled or have difficulty sleeping.
Like adults, children and adolescents can have mental health disorders that interfere with the way they think, feel and act. But the good news is that anxiety disorders are highly treatable and children do not have to suffer from them.
Signs of mental health disorders can signal a need for help. Children and adolescents with mental health issues need to get help as soon as possible. A variety of signs may point to anxiety disorders in children or adolescents. Pay attention if a child or adolescent you know has any of these warning signs:
* Often worries about things.
* Many physical complaints.
* Cries or becomes tearful easily.
* Easily frustrated or angered.
* Fear of new situations.
* Extremely fearful or has unexplained fears.
* Frightened that his or her mind either is controlled or is out of control.
* Avoiding friends or family and often wanting to be alone.
* Feeling life is too hard to handle.
* Poor concentration; unable to think straight or make up his or her mind.
* An inability to sit still or focus attention.
* Worry about being harmed, hurting others or doing something "bad."
* A need to wash, clean things or perform certain routines hundreds of times a day, in order to avoid an unsubstantiated danger.
* Racing thoughts that are almost too fast to follow.
* Persistent nightmares.
* Declining performance in school.
* Changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
* Alcohol or drug use.
Every child's mental health is important. Many children have mental health problems. These problems are real, painful, and can be severe. Mental health problems can be recognized and treated. Parents who talk with their children about what is happening in their lives are better able to guide their children toward positive mental health. Caring families and communities working together can help.
For help or more information contact:
* Bridges of Hope makes referrals to therapists -- 825-7682.
* Family Links provides information and resources on children's mental health -- 820-5327.
* A therapist or mental health agency, especially those specializing in work with children and adolescents.
* Your child's school social worker or school psychologist.
* Anxiety Disorders Association of America -- 1-301-231-9350 or www.adaa.org.
* Anxiety Disorders Education Program, National Institute of Mental Health -- 1-888-826-9438 or www.nimh.nih.gov/anxiety/anxietymenu.cfm.
* National Anxiety Foundation -- 1-800-755-1576 or lexington-on-line.com/naf.html.
* Obsessive Compulsive Foundation -- 1-203-315-2190 or www.ocfoundation.org.
* Minnesota Association for Children's Mental Health 1-800-528-4511 or www.macmh.org.
* Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration call 1-800-789-2647 or visit www.mentalhealth.samhsa.go.
(Spotlight on Children's Mental Health is sponsored by the Crow Wing County Local Advisory Council on Children's Mental Health.)
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