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Childhood Mental Health: Anxiety Disorders


Anxiety is considered abnormal when it occurs in situations that most people can deal with, without too much difficulty. Anxiety disorders refers to a wide range of disorders where anxiety is the main symptom ( Generalised anxiety and panic disorders ) or is experienced when the individual attempts to control certain maladaptive behaviours ( phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder ).
Post-traumatic stress disorder
is another anxiety disorder, which involves anxiety following a traumatic event.
Separation anxiety
also comes under this group of disorders.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problems that occur in children and adolescents. According to one large-scale study of 9 to 17 year olds, (Methods for the Epidemiology of Child and Adolescent Mental Disorders; MECA), as many as 13% of young people had an anxiety disorder in a year. [ 1 ]

Symptoms and Signs

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder . Symptoms include exaggerated worry and tension over everyday events.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder ( OCD ). Characterised by intrusive, unwanted, repetitive thoughts and rituals performed out of a feeling of urgent need; at least one-third of adult cases begins in childhood.
  • Panic Disorder . Characterised by feelings of extreme fear and dread that strike unexpectedly and repeatedly for no apparent reason, often accompanied by intense physical symptoms, such as chest pain, pounding heart, shortness of breath, dizziness, or abdominal distress.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A condition that can occur after exposure to a terrifying event, most often characterised by the repeated re-experience of the ordeal in the form of frightening, intrusive memories, and brings on hypervigilance and deadening of normal emotions.
  • Phobias . 2 types:
    1. Social phobia , extreme fear of embarrassment or being scrutinised;
    2. Specific phobia , excessive fear of an object or situation, such as dogs, heights, loud sounds, flying, costumed characters, enclosed spaces, etc.
  • Other . Other anxiety disorders include:
    Separation anxiety , excessive anxiety concerning separation from the home or from those to whom the person is most attached. Some degree of separation anxiety is normal and occurs in almost all children, especially in infants and toddlers. In contrast, separation anxiety disorder is excessive anxiety that goes beyond that expected for the child's developmental level. Some life stress, such as the death of a relative, friend, or pet or a geographic move or change in schools, usually triggers the disorder.
    Selective mutism , persistent failure to speak in specific social situations.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Various forms of psychotherapy , including cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy, as well as certain medications, particularly selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are used to treat anxiety disorders in children and adolescents. Research on the safety and efficacy of these treatments is ongoing.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. National Institute of Mental Health:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Anxiety Disorder
Generalised anxiety


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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002