Recognize anxiety disorders in your teen, and learn to help

May 28, 2014 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn
There are different treatment options for teens who have anxiety disorders.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimated that, during any given 12-month period, 40 million American adults – or 18 percent of people at least 18 years of age – live with an anxiety disorder. According to the NIMH, 8 percent of young people aged 13 to 18 years have an anxiety disorder. These disorders can disrupt daily life, relationships, schoolwork and other important aspects of your teen’s life. If you are raising a teenager who shows signs of an anxiety disorder, one of the first things you can do to help is educate yourself.

Anxiety disorders come in a number of forms, including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and social phobia. The worrisome trend with teenagers is that only 18 percent of those with these conditions receive psychiatric care.

What causes anxiety disorders?
In the average person, fear and anxiety are normal emotional responses to things that are stressful. In some cases, anxiety may even be helpful if it drives a person to react in a manner that takes him or her out of harm’s way. However, people who have an anxiety disorder experience chronic and crippling fear or worry, even when the stress that triggered the initial feelings disappears. These atypical feelings can persist for upward of six months if left untreated and make it difficult to function in everyday life.

Psychiatric disorders are often the result of physical, genetic, environmental and psychological factors. Physically and biologically, anxiety disorders are driven by abnormal functions in the brain. For years, scientists focused their attention on the amygdala, a portion of the brain that is associated with fear. More recent research on mouse models suggests that another area of the brain, known as the lateral septum, may influence cellular processes that cause feelings of anxiety. Continued research on the brain and the chemical processes that occur there will help researchers develop a wider range of effective treatments.

Find help for your teen
Currently, there are several strategies that doctors may use to treat these conditions, depending on the type of anxiety disorder your child has, how severe it is and what your family prefers. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy uses exercises to help patients confront their fears in a constructive manner so that they can reduce the severity of their anxiety. Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or antidepressants modify the levels of neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers, in the brain.

While many of these approaches are effective, it is possible that some patients may need to continue to treat their anxiety throughout their lives. This underscores the importance of keeping track of the latest innovations in anxiety treatment. One team of scientists from Hunter College is experimenting with smartphone games that train anxiety disorder patients to focus their attention away from threatening triggers toward non-threatening ones. The process teaches coping skills in the face of severe anxiety.

Ultimately, your teen has options for managing anxiety, and none of them are one-size-fits-all. A private health advisor can help you and your family find the best resources for information on medications, psychotherapy, behavior modification and lifestyle changes. Additionally, they are able to keep track of the most recent innovations in psychiatric care. With a tailored plan of care that focuses on your teen’s individual needs, you can develop a strategy to effectively manage anxiety and prevent it from disrupting his or her life.

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