Childhood anxiety disorders can and should be treated

Dec 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: CHOP global health focuses on children with cerebral palsy in southern Africa

Related Stories

Prozac treatment can help anxious dogs

May 14, 2015

Dogs who suffer with separation anxiety become more optimistic when taking the animal equivalent of Prozac during behavioural treatment, according to the results of an innovative new study.

Challenges medical relief teams face after disaster

May 04, 2015

As medical relief teams from Nepal and the rest of the world work to distribute supplies and care for survivors, it's worth understanding how health workers handle extreme emergency situations.

Study discovers a way to control internal clocks

Dec 23, 2014

Researchers hypothesize that targeting components of the mammalian clock with small molecules like REV-ERB drugs may lead to new treatments for sleep disorders and anxiety disorders. It also is possible that ...

Recommended for you

Combined drug treatment combats kidney disease

8 hours ago

A recent discovery by drug researchers whereby coupling specific cell membrane receptors has altered kidney cell function has triggered a re-think of how to treat chronic kidney disease (CKD) more effectively.

Active substance targeting dreaded hospital germs

8 hours ago

In the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), scientists have conducted clinical studies on an active substance against the dreaded hospital pathogen Staphylococcus aureus: a highly effective protein from bacteriophages ...

User comments : 0

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.