Anxiety is the most common mental health symptom experienced by children and adolescents.
Researchers estimate that the prevalence of anxiety disorders in children and teens ranges from 15%-20%. Anxiety symptoms are often noticeable in the mid-childhood years, and if left untreated can turn into a range of full-blown anxiety disorders and/or other mental health disorders by adulthood.
Various types of psychosocial treatments have been proven effective for treating anxiety symptoms, and are considered the appropriate first step in treatment. However, many professionals recommend prescription medications as a first-line treatment for anxiety symptoms, even in very young children. This is unfortunate, as these medications have unproven track records for children and can cause more problems than they solve in both the short and long-term.
Before investigating medication options there are some important areas parents should explore in order to understand and treat the root of a child’s anxiety symptoms. I’ve created a checklist of issues that can cause or worsen anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents. It is helpful to investigate and address these first before looking at medication options:
- Is your child getting enough hours of sleep each night?
- Is your child getting good quality sleep?
- Is your child deficient in vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, or other nutrients?
- Is your child eating a diet full of processed foods including artificial dyes, flavorings, sweeteners, and other chemicals?
- Does your child have allergies or sensitivities to specific foods or environmental triggers?
- Does your child have undiagnosed medical conditions such as a thyroid disorder or blood sugar regulation problems?
- Has your child experienced a concussion or head injury?
- Does your child have an imbalance of gut bacteria?
- Is your child getting adequate amounts of physical activity and movement throughout the day?
- Does your child have undiagnosed or untreated sensory processing, visual processing, or auditory processing problems?
- Does your child have opportunities to feel competent and successful throughout the day?
- Is your child experiencing a high amount of stress at school or home?
- Has your child experienced a significant trauma that has not been treated?
- Have you as parents learned strategies to help your child cope and manage anxious thoughts and feelings?
- Does your child have consistent structure at home and school?
- Does your child spend an excessive amount of time using electronics?
- Does your child have a positive and supportive peer group?
- Is your child being teased or bullied?
Regardless of the type of anxiety, your child is experiencing, it is important to identify the root causes in order to provide appropriate support and treatment. Even in situations where psychiatric medication is helpful, it does not address the root issues. Treatment and support that target the underlying causes of child anxiety help ensure that symptoms improve in the short term and have lasting results. Here is a blog post that you may find helpful “Playing these games can help reduce anxiety in children.”