While normal levels of anxiety may be helpful, excessive anxiety can cripple teenagers’ functioning, undermine their lives going forward, and endanger their overall welfare. Young people are particularly vulnerable to anxiety as they transition into adulthood. The adolescent brain is capable of remarkable adaptability--more so than at any other time in life--and this challenging developmental phase is also a peak time for the clinical onset of many mental illnesses.
Anxiety and avoidance behavior can have a damaging impact on the routines of daily life in school, as well as in developing friendships and intimate relationships. Anxiety often causes adults to be solitary and socially withdrawn. When anxiety becomes so disruptive that it interferes with the daily life of the individual and his or her family, it is time to seek the attention of a trained clinician. Tragically, a young person with an anxiety disorder may drop out of school, abuse drugs or alcohol, and may attempt or commit suicide.
Anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental illnesses. A large epidemiological survey in the United States showed that 29% of Americans will have an anxiety disorder. This means that more than 93 million Americans will have an anxiety disorder. That is more than all mood disorders combined. That is more than the incidence of substance disorders, diabetes, and breast cancer.
Anxiety disorders are a group of disorders characterized by fear or anxiety. Following are some examples of different types of disorders listed in order of prevalence.
These are individuals who are afraid of very specific situations, such as heights or injury, or objects such as needles or animals. When they encounter that specific situation or object they can experience extreme fear.
This is an anxiety disorder in which people are afraid of performance and being scrutinized and evaluated. They may have a fright or fear reaction, but they also can have a physical reaction such as sweaty palms or blushing. For people with social anxiety disorder, any number of different social situations or specific performance situations, such as giving a talk or a speech, can bring on their anxieties.
These individuals worry all the time. Their worry interferes with their lives. Often they cannot function as they need and have issues with constructive problem solving. Even when things are going well in their lives, these individuals find other things to worry about. This worrying has an impact on their relationships, often causing them to withdraw and isolate themselves from friends and family.
With anxiety disorders in general, people can have a panic attack, which is this sudden attack of intense anxiety with physical symptoms such as racing heart and shortness of breath. Individuals with panic disorder who have recurrent panic attacks can become very afraid of situations where they might be likely to have a panic attack again. This can lead to avoiding those situations completely.
Historically post-traumatic stress disorder was characterized as an anxiety disorder although now, diagnostically, it is in its own category. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be triggered by a psychological shock, injury or dangerous event. This often results in severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about that specific shock. This can lead to generalized anxiety in other areas of theirs lives.
Once categorized as an anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder is now its own category. In this disorder individuals have obsessions and compulsions and can spend hours a day with these thoughts. The result is that going to work or taking care of their families becomes impossible as the individual becomes consumed by thoughts and associated rituals.
These are children and young adults who are afraid and anxious when they are not with a loved or trusted person. In children this can lead to refusing to go to school.
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent class of mental health problems affecting children and adolescents in the United States, collectively affecting roughly one in every eight children. Anxiety disorders typically begin in childhood or adolescence, and when left untreated these disorders can persist and become chronic conditions associated with considerably reduced quality of life.
Anxiety disorders are treatable, yet regrettably only one-third of afflicted individuals actually receive treatment.
The Youth Anxiety Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital provides evidence-based treatments for all of the anxiety disorders that can afflict youth and young adults.