Identifying Anxiety and the Need for Clinical Care
While normal levels of anxiety may be helpful, excessive anxiety can cripple a young person’s ability to function, undermine their lives going forward, and endanger their overall welfare. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to anxiety as they transition into adulthood. More so than at any other time in life, the adolescent brain is capable of remarkable adaptability. Unfortunately, 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 daily life including outcomes at school, friendships, and intimate relationships. When anxiety becomes so disruptive that it interferes with the individual’s daily life or their 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, or may attempt or resort to suicide.
The Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent class of mental health problems affecting children and young adults in the United States, collectively affecting roughly one in every three adolescents. Anxiety disorders typically begin in childhood, and when left untreated can persist and become chronic conditions associated with a considerably reduced quality of life.
Types of Anxiety and Related Conditions We Treat
Anxiety disorders are treatable yet only one-third of afflicted individuals actually receive treatment. The most common disorders we treat are listed below in order of prevalence.
- Specific phobias. An extreme fear of very specific objects or situations such as heights, enclosed spaces, medical or dental visits, blood and injections, lightening, modes of transportation, catching a disease, or being near animals or insects.
- Social phobia or social anxiety disorder. Fear of being the focus of attention, scrutinized, or evaluated. Individuals may experience physical sensations such as sweaty palms or blushing during social and evaluative situations. Any number of different social or specific performance situations, such as giving a talk or speech, taking a test, or meeting someone for the first time can bring on this type of anxiety.
- Generalized anxiety disorder. These individuals worry all the time which interferes with their lives and impairs their ability to function and engage in constructive problem-solving. Even when things are going well in their lives, people with generalized anxiety disorder are often still worried, which has an impact on relationships, sometimes causing them to withdraw and isolate themselves from friends and family.
- Panic disorder. A panic attack is a sudden attack of intense anxiety with physical symptoms such as a racing heart, trembling, and shortness of breath. Some people become afraid of these physical sensations and the possibility of their recurrence. Eventually, they can become very afraid of and avoid situations where they have experienced panic such as the grocery store, a classroom, or even while just being alone at home.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder. Historically post-traumatic stress disorder was characterized as an anxiety disorder although now, diagnostically, it is categorized separately and can be triggered by a psychological shock, injury, or dangerous event. This often results in severe anxiety and uncontrollable thoughts about a specific shock which can lead to generalized anxiety in other areas of their lives.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Once categorized as an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder is also now categorized separately. Individuals have obsessions and compulsions, potentially spending hours a day with these thoughts. As a result, going to work or taking care of their families becomes impossible as they are consumed by thoughts and associated rituals.
- Separation anxiety disorder. Children and young adults with separation anxiety disorder are afraid and anxious when not with a loved one or a trusted person. In children, this can lead to refusing to go to school or other activities.
NewYork-Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Center