In the modern world children are subjected to a variety of stressors each day and often children are unable to adequately cope with the stress and anxieties that fill their heads. As a result of this, anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues affecting children today. A variety of anxiety disorders exist, including many specific phobias.
Commonly diagnosed child anxiety disorders include Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Separation Anxiety Disorder.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalised Anxiety Disorder in children is characterised by excessive worry. Children worry about events that took place in the past and events that will take place in the future. They worry about conversations, actions, health, performance at school, performance in after school activities, friendships, and even current affairs. Often these children worry so much that it interferes with their daily lives and their sleeping patterns. Treatment for GAD often focuses on changing negative thoughts into positive thoughts.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterised by consistent obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts that a child does not invite but can not banish, while compulsions are behaviours that a child must perform whether (s)he truly wants to or not. Most often the obsessions and compulsions disrupt a child’s daily life and sleep patterns and are disastrous to a child’s concentration. Treatment for OCD often requires children to face their fears, thus relieving obsessions and behaviour modification to reduce compulsions.
Panic Disorder in children is characterised by persistent panic attacks and anxiety about panic attacks. Panic attacks often bring physical symptoms including difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking or trembling, hot flashes, cold flashes, dizziness and more. Due to these symptoms children with Panic Disorder often avoid social situations in case they suffer a panic attack. Treatment for Panic Disorder routinely includes cognitive-behavioural approaches in order to modify associated behaviours.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is present only in those who have suffered through a painful or terrifying ordeal. PTSD is characterised by memories of/flashbacks to the trauma, an emotional numbness, nightmares, anxiety and general fearfulness. Often these emotions are so overwhelming that they can result in a paralysis that wreaks havoc on daily life. Treatment for PTSD often includes counselling to work through emotions and cognitive-behavioural therapy to treat associated behaviours.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder is usually diagnosed in young children who are vehemently opposed to separating from a primary caregiver (often also called an attachment figure). Very often this opposition stems from the child’s anxiety that something bad will happen to him/her or to the primary caregiver during the time that they are separated. These worries may also bring physical symptoms such as upset stomachs, headaches and disturbances to sleep patterns. Treatment for Separation Anxiety Disorder often includes cognitive-behavioural approaches in order to modify thoughts and behaviours.
Anxiety disorders in children are some of the most common mental health diagnoses for those age groups. Many support groups exist for children diagnosed with anxiety disorders, and their families, though a formal diagnosis by a qualified child psychology expert is essential in beginning the treatment process. Further information should be obtained from a GP, professional educator, child psychologist or child psychiatrist.
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