CHICAGO (AP) -- One boy told of a nightmare about war. In his version, the battlefield was a playground and the weapons were words, with children calling each other names as they played on a slide.
It may sound like kid stuff. But mental health professionals who work with young people say the nightmare is just one of many signs that worry about war and more terror attacks is heightened these days. In particular, they say children already being treated for anxiety are exposing the underlying worry that many Americans are feeling.
"These kids are often what we call the thermometers, sort of the pulse of what's going on," says Dr. Karen Pierce, a child psychiatrist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "We allow kids their feelings. But we, as adults, don't often allow ourselves those feelings. Or we ignore them."
Her patients include the young boy with nightmares. Others are more emotional or defiant than usual. And still others, she says, are obsessing about things they're hearing on the news -- for example, the federal recommendation to keep duct tape on hand to seal plastic on windows.
She and others say it's also been a hard time for children who have trust issues and a general suspiciousness, often the result of abuse.
But while their troubles may be among the easiest to notice, it's not just young people with anxiety disorders who are struggling with the possibility of war.
Organizers of a nonprofit for youth called Seeking Harmony in Neighborhoods, or SHiNE, have also noticed more anxiousness. They have seen a 30 percent increase in traffic on their Web site -- most of it from teens wanting to talk about a potential war.
"One of the big things we're seeing is passionate opinions on either side (of the argument)," says Alan Rambam, SHiNE's founder. "But we're also seeing a lot of confusion and worry."
One teen from New York City posted this message on the SHiNE site: "Think of that chemical cloud above my school!!!!!! Bomb threats? Think of it. Are we prepared for war? Are we?"
Mental health providers on college campuses say they, too, have been seeing a lot of stressed-out students in recent months.
This past fall, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, 54 percent of students who sought counseling services from the school checked the box for "anxiety" -- the highest percentage of any of the 25 symptoms they were asked about.
It's the first time the university gathered such results. And Karen Settle, SMU's director of counseling and testing, says any number of issues could be causing anxiety. But the threat of war and terrorism are definitely factors, she says.
"You take a student who's already experiencing stress in their lives and then you crank that up a notch with 'Oh, by the way, we're going to war' or 'Oh, by the way, you're graduating at a time when it's tough to get a job,"' Settle says. "They're having a tough time."
Overall, she says 12 percent of the students treated at SMU's mental health services have anxiety disorders, up from 7 percent in 1996.
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