By Crystal Ladwig
Anxiety disorders among children are growing at an alarming rate. The National Institutes of Health report that more than 30 percent of adolescents experience anxiety disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorders during their lifetime. The reason is unclear. Are children facing greater stress and pressure than earlier generations? Are they less equipped to deal with stress and pressure? Or are we just labeling our children more and more? Regardless of your answer to those questions, the truth is that some children do in fact have anxiety disorders. Some are simply going through a rough time. But how do you know the difference?
All children experience anxiety from time to time. Most often this is observed as children clinging to you or crying when you separate, avoiding social situations, experiencing frequent worrying, or complaining of stomachaches and headaches. Anxiety is sometimes a good thing. It alerts us to potential dangers and helps to keep us safe. But when that anxiety becomes extensive, it can keep children from functioning as they should.
There are some fears that children seem to experience at certain ages. Babies may cry when they are held by a stranger. Older children may fear speaking in front of a group. Anxiety and fear become a problem when those developmental worries are not outgrown or when they become irrational and limit the child’s activities.
According to University of Florida psychologist Dr. Anyaliese Hancock-Smith, you should seek professional help for your child when you observe both excessive, persistent anxiety as well as a disruption of daily activities. Excessive anxiety may include physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, tiredness), reassurance seeking, excessive crying, lashing out, temper tantrums, and difficulty sleeping. These behaviors disrupt daily life resulting in academic difficulties, social isolation, resistance to new activities, and extensive time spent dealing with the anxiety.
Gainesville is fortunate to have a variety of support services available to help children with significant anxiety. UF now has a Fear and Anxiety Disorders Clinic as well as a clinic specializing in the treatment of OCD.
If you think your child may have an anxiety disorder, talk with your child’s pediatrician. Get a referral to a local psychologist or psychiatrist. If your insurance allows it, contact a service provider yourself to set up an evaluation. Most importantly, trust your gut. If you believe your child is struggling more than what is appropriate for his or her age, do not give up until you find the help you need.
Finding Support in Our Community
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a Gainesville chapter. They offer monthly family support groups as well as resources about local support and service organizations. There is also a Facebook group called Gainesville Parents of Kids with OCD where parents can seek assistance. It is a support group created by parents of children with OCD to give families in and around the Gainesville area a place to share ideas, resources, vent and celebrate together.