Childhood anxiety disorders can and should be treated

December 24, 2008

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents should be recognized and treated to prevent educational underachievement and adult substance abuse, anxiety disorders and depression, says a nationally recognized child psychiatrist from UT Southwestern Medical Center.

In an editorial appearing in the Dec. 25 issue of New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Graham Emslie, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UT Southwestern, urges awareness that children need to be treated for anxiety disorders and recommends that related empirical evidence be integrated into treatment guidelines.

"Anxiety disorders may cause children to avoid social situations and age-appropriate developmental milestones," said Dr. Emslie. "Further, the avoidance cycle can lead to less opportunity to develop social skills necessary for success later in life. Treatment would help children learn healthy coping skills."

Up to 20 percent of children and adolescents are affected by persistent and excessive worry that can manifest as generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder and social phobia. Research has shown that failure to identify these disorders early leads to educational underachievement and increased rates of anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse later in life.

Only with the adaptation of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition did the mental health community recognize that adult anxiety disorders have origins in childhood, wrote Dr. Emslie, the first psychiatrist to demonstrate that antidepressants are effective in depressed children and adolescents.

Anxiety disorders in children are frequently unrecognized because they may only report physical aches and may be unable to verbalize "worry" or "fear," said Dr. Emslie, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Children's Medical Center Dallas.

The editorial accompanies a study in the same issue of the journal by senior author John Walkup of Johns Hopkins Medical Institute. The pivotal research, which was conducted at seven medical institutions across the U.S., was the first study to directly compare medication treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy that examines thinking patterns in order to modify behavior, and the combination of both treatments in children and teens with anxiety disorders. The results showed that antidepressant medications and cognitive behavioral therapy were equally effective treatments for anxiety and that the combination of both treatments was most effective.

Dr. Emslie said he hopes future studies will build on this work to determine what type to treatment is best for individual patients.

"Partial treatment is not adequate," he said. "If children aren't treated to the point of complete remission, they are likely to relapse. It's imperative that we help children overcome their anxiety disorders for their own lifetime good."

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

Explore further: Review links anxiety disorders to risk of cardiovascular events

Related Stories

Study supports new strategy to fight cocaine addiction

August 18, 2016

An international team led by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has found strong evidence supporting a new strategy against drug addiction. The researchers showed that a compound that inhibits the activity ...

After years of war, Afghans wary to talk of mental health

August 18, 2016

Soheila Hashemi has hardly slept since a suicide bomber targeted a rally in the Afghan capital last month, killing more than 80 people and wounding scores in the deadliest attack in Kabul since the war with the Taliban began ...

Stay calm and drive on—tips to manage road rage

August 17, 2016

With parents and children gearing up to go back to school, you can expect there to be more cars on the road. While traffic can be extremely irritating, it is important to keep calm and avoid a road rage situation, said a ...

Potential therapeutic target for Huntington's disease

August 16, 2016

There is new hope in the fight against Huntington's disease. Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes discovered that changing a specific part of the huntingtin protein prevented the loss of critical brain cells and protected ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Cow embryos reveal new type of chromosome chimera

May 27, 2016

I've often wondered what happens between the time an egg is fertilized and the time the ball of cells that it becomes nestles into the uterine lining. It's a period that we know very little about, a black box of developmental ...

Shaving time to test antidotes for nerve agents

February 29, 2016

Imagine you wanted to know how much energy it took to bike up a mountain, but couldn't finish the ride to the peak yourself. So, to get the total energy required, you and a team of friends strap energy meters to your bikes ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.