Mental Health

Rise In Prevalence Of Anxiety Among US Children And Adolescents: Study

According to a new study, the number of U.S. children diagnosed with anxiety has increased in recent years while rates of depression in the same age group have remained stable. 

The report titled "Epidemiology and Impact of Health Care Provider-Diagnosed Anxiety and Depression Among US Children" was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics on April 24.

The aim was to understand the prevalence of anxiety or depression among children between 6 to 17 years of age. The study looked at data from the National Survey of Children's Health from three periods: 2003, 2007, and 2011-2012. "Estimates were based on the parent report of being told by a health care provider that their child had the specified condition," the authors wrote.

The findings revealed that roughly 2.6 million children in the country were diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression in the latest period of tracking. The prevalence of current anxiety increased from 3.5% in 2007 to 4.1% in 2011-12. However, the prevalence of current depression did not show much significant change, increasing from 2.5 and 2.7% in the same period.

The affected children were also more likely to have other diagnosed health conditions such as obesity and neurobehavioral disorders. Mental health problems during childhood and adolescence often concern factors related to physical appearance, bullying, social media, peer pressure, parenting, academic performance, stressing over college etc. Since this age group is prone to moodiness, tantrums and teenage angst, it can be difficult to identify when there actually is a serious problem with their minds.

"Teenagers have a different kind of depression. They don't seem sad. They seem irritable," explained Dr. Harold Koplewicz, founding president of The Child Mind Institute. "This really has an effect on your concentration, which will affect school. It will affect your desire to continue playing sports. It'll affect your desire of being with your friends."

Academic staff members and mental health counselors have also noticed the rise in anxious students in recent years. It has been stated that anxiety is often underestimated and does not get the same attention as serious conditions like depression and suicide ideation. Despite being particularly vulnerable to these conditions, the new report stated that nearly 20% of children with anxiety or depression did not receive mental health treatment in the past year.

"Children with anxiety and depression may have needs that go beyond diagnosis and mental health treatment," said lead author Dr. Rebecca H. Bitsko of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Anxiety and depression are associated with school problems, parenting stress, and unmet medical needs. Parents, healthcare providers, and teachers can look for ways to support children with anxiety and depression in all areas of the child's life."

While the results may indicate rising anxiety symptoms among the current generation of children, the increase in parent-reported anxiety may also be a positive reflection of reduced stigma, improved identification or increased use of mental health services.