Part II: Fear Not – There is Help for Children and Youth with Anxiety

Everyone has times of feeling anxious, scared or fearful. Without it, we would never have survived as humans, writes Dr. David Smith.

*This article was written and contributed by Dr. David Smith, Okanagan Psychiatric services for Interior Health.

Everyone has times of feeling anxious, scared or fearful.

In fact, without our body’s innate ability to sense and respond to pending danger, we would never have survived as humans.

These days, however, anxiety disorders are like a car alarm repeatedly sounding off when there is no real threat. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern for children in B.C., affecting an estimated four per cent of all children, impacting their day-to-day life, their friendships, their school performance, their physical health and their sense of well-being. My colleagues and I in the mental health field are concerned that in this modern, fast-paced, wired world, anxiety disorders in children are greatly increasing. We are seeing more children than ever before who are constrained and made miserable by their fears when they should be feeling safe, secure, confident and happy.

Anxious feelings include a rapid heartbeat, difficulty catching one’s breath, a sense of doom, sweaty palms, an upset stomach or stomach ache, even nausea and vomiting. Focusing on the feelings can cause them to intensify, a vicious cycle. Anxious symptoms become a true anxiety disorder when the anxiety leads to avoidance of the situation that is causing the anxiety and causes significant physical distress and disruption of daily life and functioning.

An unresolved anxiety disorder can often lead to depression or substance use problems in future years.

More: Part I: Mental Health for Children and Youth – How to Get the Help You Need (Dec. 10, 2014)

Anxiety, however, exists on a spectrum. A certain amount of anxiety is normal and beneficial. It keeps our children safe and conscientious; it motivates them to perform well. Children who tend to be anxious are often model students: high achieving, diligent, analytical, sensitive, alert, creative and imaginative. Too little anxiety and a child or teenager may take foolish risks or lack motivation to succeed. But too much anxiety and children become so paralyzed by fear that they may be unable to leave their parent’s side, leave the house, go to school, make friends or participate in normal life.

The good news is that anxiety can be very successfully managed or treated when required.

Regular exercise and reliable routines in children are often all it takes to quell mild cases. Mild and moderate anxiety is very responsive to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a process of addressing the unhelpful thoughts and actions that underlie anxiety. Thought stopping, talking back to negative thoughts, not believing everything you think, relaxation techniques like calming breathing, mindfulness meditation, and gradual safe exposure to the things you fear are all examples of types of CBT.

All children – and adults, too – could benefit from learning simple CBT techniques to turn off their body alarms that are sounding unnecessarily. In more long term or severe cases of anxiety – such as panic disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – treatment may include a period of anti-anxiety medication in addition to teaching the child age-appropriate CBT techniques, an approach called “pills plus skills”.

**********

If you are worried about your child or teenager’s anxiety, there are many places to get help.

Many online resources as well as books, some written for specific age groups, are available to give in depth information about anxiety and step-by-step instructions for specific CBT techniques.

For parents of children and youth, the FORCE Society, in partnership with MCFD’s FRIENDS Program, offers an online parent program for parents of children ages 4-13 years. Anxiety BC (anxietybc.ca) is another great site and offers detailed pages for adults and youth. Other sites include mindcheck.ca and keltymentalhealth.ca.

If you feel your child needs professional help, see your family doctor or call Service BC at 1-800-661-8773 and ask for the MCFD Child and Youth Mental Health office in your community.

Next column, we will talk about depression in children and teenagers.

**********

Dr. David Smith is an adolescent and adult psychiatrist and the medical director of the Okanagan Psychiatric services for Interior Health. This series of columns on common child and youth mental health issues is a project of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substances Use Collaborative. The Collaborative involves multiple individuals, organizations and ministries all working together to increase the number of children, youth, and their families receiving timely access to mental health services and support in the Interior Health and Vancouver Island regions. The Collaborative is jointly funded by Doctors of BC and the government of B.C.

Just Posted

Lack of security: why Vancouver Island food production is on the decline

Big Read: agriculture a big, expensive commitment as advocates push to make us more food secure

RCMP investigate sexual assault in Courtenay

Comox Valley RCMP officers are investigating a reported sexual assault at Sandwick… Continue reading

Comox Strathcona Waste Management board approves tour of Nova Scotia advanced recycling plant

Three CVRD representatives will tour Sustane Tech. plant while in Halifax for FCM conference

Comox opts for ‘blank sheet’ when it comes to cannabis bylaw

Comox council unanimously approved a bylaw to prohibit the sale of cannabis within the town.

Big Read: locked out of the woods

Vancouver Islanders struggle to balance back country public access with private land protection

Lt.-Gov. Guichon believes she made the right decision

Outgoing Lt.-Gov Judith Guichon said her most memorable moments weren’t surrounding the election

CONTEST: Win a whale-watching tour for four

Where in the world are the Snowbirds?

Crews called to highway crash in Nanoose Bay

Accident happened just before 4 p.m. near Hillview Road

VIDEO: Smokers talk pot rules at annual 4-20 event

Annual pot protest-meets-festival in Vancouver attracted hundreds to vendors, concert

New funds, recruits set to alleviate B.C. sheriff shortage

The Government of British Columbia announced new sheriff graduates, funding for more classes

Video: RCMP investigation gets a deer little photobomb

Princeton RCMP were conducting a drug investigation in Princeton which a deer strolled through

Farnworth says five years too long for feds to deal with organized crime in medical pot

Needs to be dealt with much sooner than that, B.C. Public Safety Minister says

UPDATED: Unions, CP Rail come to agreement, avoiding work stoppage

Locomotive engineers, conductors and signals specialists seeking new collective agreements.

B.C. woman known to hitchhike around province missing

Aislynn Hanson, 18, last seen April 13; known to travel throughout B.C. by hitchhiking

Most Read