It is normal for children and teenagers to feel anxious, scared, nervous, worried, or sad from time to time. However, when these feelings linger or develop to an extreme, they can cause significant disruptions to a child’s home, school, and daily life. Anxiety and depression are not passing moods or phases, they are disorders with significant long-term negative health effects.
Statistics on Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression disorders are the most-commonly diagnosed mental health problems in children and adolescents. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety and depression were becoming more common among children and adolescents. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health published in JAMA Pediatrics, anxiety diagnoses increased by 27% and depression diagnoses increased by 24% from 2016 to 2019. As of 2020, 5.6 million children (9.2%) have been diagnosed with anxiety problems and 2.4 million (4.0%) have been diagnosed with depression in the United States.
Risk Factors for Anxiety and Depression
Children and teenagers are at increased risk for developing anxiety or depression if there is a family history of depression or anxiety disorders, domestic violence, or substance abuse, sexual or physical abuse or neglect, death of a family member or friend, and divorce or parental separation.
Depression and anxiety disorders can be caused by a combination of things that relate to family history, environment, genetic vulnerability, biological differences, and life stressors. If left untreated, anxiety and depression have been linked to short-term and long-term consequences such as an increased risk of substance use, relationship challenges, obesity, and heart disease.
Anxiety and depression symptoms can be difficult to diagnose because they vary greatly and can often go unnoticed if parents and caregivers are unaware of the signs. The good news is that depression and anxiety are treatable and intervening early is crucial.
Signs of Anxiety
Some of the most common signs of anxiety disorders may include the following:
- Persistent, frequent worrying
- Unreasonable fears (i.e., spiders, heights, dogs)
- School avoidance
- Fear of speaking
- Fear of eating in groups
- Fear of social settings
- Extreme fear of separation from a parent or caregiver
Some of these fears and worries may be accompanied by somatic symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, muscle pain, or panic attacks. These behaviors can begin as early as 6 years old through adolescence, but anxiety disorders are most-commonly diagnosed in teenagers. The content of children’s fears and worries can vary depending on their age, but it is important to note whether they seem persistent, extreme, or disrupt the child’s daily routines to the point where it causes concern.
Signs of Depression
Like anxiety, symptoms of depression can appear from childhood through the teenage years, and girls are almost twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with depression. Not all children have all the symptoms listed below, and children may show different symptoms at different times and settings. Teenagers may begin using drugs or alcohol, school performance may change drastically and suddenly, or there may be a noticeable loss of interest in social activities. Some common signs of depression are:
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Crying a lot
- Trouble concentrating
- Fatigue or low energy
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Irritable mood
- Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
- Losing interest in hobbies or activities that the child previously liked
- Thoughts of death or suicide
How Parents Can Help
If you are concerned your child is struggling with anxiety or depression, take them to see a pediatrician as soon as you notice signs. A pediatrician will be able to assess your child and recommend appropriate treatments, like medication and referrals to a mental health professional for therapy or counseling. Other ways to support your child who may be experiencing anxiety or depression are to make sure they are getting the right amount of sleep, eating healthy meals, getting physical activity and exercise, joining local peer support groups, and engaging in hobbies or activities that they enjoy.
If your child is experiencing a mental health crisis or emergency and is in danger of harming themselves or others, seek help immediately at the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Hotline by dialing 988.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can help your child deal with anxiety or depression and would like to schedule an appointment with a TopLine MD Alliance affiliated Pediatrician, click on the ‘Find a Provider’ button.