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Recognizing Anxiety, Depression and PTSD in Youth

Most parents find that their children reach all developmental and emotional milestones right on schedule. These children learn to cope with problems and develop healthy social skills at home, in school and when interacting with others. 

However, some youth do develop mental and behavioral conditions — with symptoms that parents will recognize as serious changes in the way their children or teens learn, behave, play, speak, act, cope with emotions or stress, and express fears or worries.

When parents can’t help their child or teen with these changes in behavior, it’s time to seek professional help.

What kinds of mental disorders can children experience?

Some of the most common child and adolescent disorders include:

Let’s explore three of these disorders in more detail.

Youth anxiety

When fears and worries interfere with a child’s home, school or play activities, he or she may have an anxiety disorder. Some examples include:

  • General anxiety – Being worried about the future or that bad things may happen
  • Panic disorder – Having repeated sudden, intense fears that manifest in trouble breathing, heart pounding, feeling dizzy, being shaky or sweaty
  • Phobias – Having an extreme fear of a specific thing or situation
  • Separation anxiety – Being afraid to be away from parents or a sibling
  • Social anxiety – Being very afraid of school or other gatherings of people

In addition to the obvious signs of anxiety listed above, children and adolescents may also become irritable and angry, have trouble sleeping, become fatigued or have headaches or stomachaches.

Youth depression

Anyone — including children or adolescents — can occasionally feel sad, lonely, worthless or hopeless.

Parents should take note, however, if their children suddenly become uninterested in doing things that they used to enjoy, or if that sadness or hopelessness doesn’t go away after a short period of time.

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Changes in activities, such as no longer doing things once enjoyed
  • Changes in attention span
  • Changes in behavior, such as self-injury and self-destructiveness such as suicide
  • Changes in eating patterns, such as a lot more or less than usual
  • Changes in energy level, such as being tired, sluggish and restless
  • Changes in feelings, including unrelenting sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, uselessness and guilt
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as a lot more or less than usual

Many children and adolescents do not talk about their thoughts of depression or sadness. This can cause parents to misinterpret what they do notice as their child temporarily being lazy or unmotivated or as their teen being rebellious. When unsure, seek professional help.

Always keep in mind that extreme depression can lead to thoughts of suicide or a plan for suicide. For youth ages 10-24, suicide is among the leading causes of death in the United States, including Georgia.

Youth post-traumatic stress disorder

No matter how hard parents try to shield their children and adolescents from accidents, injuries, deaths, disasters, threats or violence, children are sometimes unavoidably exposed to one or more of these life-altering events.

Many children recover quickly and can move on with life. Others may develop long-term symptoms from the severe stress caused by trauma.

The symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Avoiding people or places associated with the trauma
  • Becoming very upset when remembering or reminded of the trauma
  • Being easily startled or constantly vigilant
  • Being irritable or having angry outbursts
  • Denying that anything happened
  • Feeling numb, helpless or hopeless
  • Having nightmares or sleep issues
  • Reliving the trauma over and over

The first step for parents of a child who may be suffering from PTSD is to seek the help of a qualified child and adolescent psychiatrist who can correctly diagnose and treat PTSD.

Treatments can include psychotherapy to explore the patient’s response to the stressful event, cognitive behavioral therapy to change the patient’s thoughts and feelings about the event and medication to reduce symptoms.

Parents of children experiencing any of the disorders described in this blog are urged to seek help as soon as possible.

For an appointment with a psychiatrist at Willowbrooke Psychiatric Center, call 770-812-3530. To learn more, visit WillowbrookePsychiatricCenter.org.

Behavioral Health Care, Tanner Medical Group

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