Anxiety is a normal response to stress, whether good or bad. But when feelings of nervousness, fear, and anxiousness begin to interfere with a person’s quality of life and daily functioning, it’s a cause of worry. For teenagers, life can be incredibly stressful. It’s normal for teenagers to be anxious about school or their social lives. However, a sizable number of U.S. teens experience anxiety and nervousness that go far beyond what’s considered healthy.
Anxiety disorders affect nearly one in three U.S. teens. Almost 80% of teens with a diagnosable anxiety disorder do not receive treatment for it. The adolescent years are a time of significant change, and parents may mistake their teen’s behavior for run-of-the-mill teenage angst. But it’s critical that parents and guardians can recognize the signs of an anxiety disorder in their child.
Left untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to an episode of clinical depression, and anxiety can prevent teens from taking the right steps to set themselves up for success in young adulthood. Anxiety disorders can also increase a teenagers’ chances of trying drugs or alcohol to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Today’s article will explore the rates and statistics of adolescent anxiety disorders, and what parents and guardians can do to help their child.
What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition to affect teenagers. At age 13, about 8% of the U.S. teens have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. By 18, up to 15% of all teens experience symptoms of a clinical anxiety disorder. In young children, separation anxiety is most common, while social anxiety disorders and specific phobias tend to afflict older teens once their peer group becomes a primary focus in their lives.
While feeling anxious or worried are typical responses to stressful situations, those feelings eventually go away, and they do not interfere with a person’s daily functioning. In an anxiety disorder, however, feelings of fear and worry are excessive, and significantly impair someone’s ability to function. They may avoid situations, places, or people to curb their feelings. Teens with anxiety disorders are distracted, on constant, high alert, and tense. Prolonged stress like this can lead to a host of physical symptoms too, which can prevent teenagers from participating in the usual rites of passage.
About 31% of U.S. adolescents meet the criteria for a diagnosable anxiety disorder by age 18. Anxiety disorders are divided into different subtypes.
- 19% specific phobia
- 9% social phobia
- 6% separation anxiety
- 5% PTSD
- 3% panic disorder
- 2% generalized anxiety disorder
What are the symptoms of an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders can be hard to recognize in children and teens. Fleeting feelings of anxiety or apprehension are normal for stressful situations. But when those feelings linger and start to interfere with daily functioning, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
- Restlessness and tension
- Feeling on “high alert.”
- Excessive worry beyond what a particular situation calls for
- Emotional outbursts
- Avoidance of situations or people that give them anxiety
- Trouble concentrating
- Becoming socially withdrawn
- Frequent headaches or stomach issues
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in eating habits
Other risk factors for anxiety in the adolescent years include:
- Experiencing a traumatic event
- Having a close relative with an anxiety disorder
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Stress from a physical illness or stress buildup
- Having a personality type that is prone to worry
It’s important to note that anxiety disorders can develop from a traumatic event or because a person has a genetic or hereditary predisposition to anxiety. In cases of traumatic events, PTSD is the most common anxiety disorder to develop. Studies have also found that children and young teens who have anxiety are at significantly increased risk of experiencing a major depressive episode as they get older. It’s critical for parents and guardians to recognize the symptoms of anxiety and get their teen into treatment before the disorder turns into something more serious.
What can be done to help adolescents with an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable. First, it’s crucial to get a specific diagnosis. Each subtype of anxiety disorder requires a different method of treatment to be most effective. In most cases, a combination of talk therapy and medications is useful for treating any subtype of anxiety disorder for teens.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one of the most common treatment methods for the disorder. With CBT, an experienced therapist will help the patient to recognize their symptoms and what situations trigger them. CBT teaches the patient how to better manage and cope with stress and anxiety, with methods such as relaxation techniques or breathing exercises. In some cases, patients may need medication for anxiety. Some of the medicines that are used to treat depression in teens can also be effective for alleviating symptoms of anxiety. But usually, only therapy is needed.
Anxiety disorders do not go away on their own. If an anxiety disorder starts in adolescence, it’s crucial that teens are given treatment and the tools necessary to cope and manage their symptoms. Without treatment, teens are at risk of severe clinical depression or turning to drugs or alcohol to cope.
Are you concerned that your teenage son or daughter is suffering from the symptoms of anxiety? It’s never too late to reach out for help. The experienced therapists and mental health professionals at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health are standing by to assist you. Please contact them today to explore your options for treating an anxiety disorder.
The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.
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