Guidelines being considered would recommend young kids be screened for anxiety

Psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour talks to WTOP about anxiety in teenagers.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is considering guidelines that would recommend children as young as 8 years old be screened for anxiety; and a Burke, Virginia, child psychiatrist says it’s important to recognize issues early to connect children with resources.

“Anxiety conditions are very important. And it’s good that they are being recognized because they’re the most common mental health condition across the life span for all ages. And they come about really early in life, typically emerging even around the age of 6,” said Dr. Ross Goodwin, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.

“And the consequences of an anxiety disorder going missed can be quite significant,” he said.

Because it’s so common, Goodwin said parents should not be surprised if or when anxiety arrives.

Dr. Ross Goodwin is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente in Burke, Virginia. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

“But at the same time, there’s hope because anxiety disorders are very treatable,” he said. “[There are] various strategies, including what we call cognitive behavioral therapy, skills that a child can learn to cope with worries and anxiety and behaviors that they can use to master and take charge and take control over their worries. We have good medical evidence to help a child thrive and avoid some of the consequences of an untreated anxiety disorder.”

Anxiety and fear can be typical, normal parts of development.

Some examples of typical fears associated with childhood development include:

  • Toddlers typically fear things, such as loud noises, strangers or being separated from parents.
  • Preschool children might have typical fears of monsters, or they might be afraid of the dark or scared of heights.
  • Elementary school age children might typically be afraid of getting hurt or of scary storms or of creepy, crawly insects.
  • In early adolescence, fears and worries start to become a little bit more abstract, such as thinking about relationships and how they’re being perceived, judged and evaluated.

“When anxiety responses come unexpectedly, or they’re out of proportion to what you might expect a typical response to be, or those anxiety responses aren’t cooling off, aren’t dissipating, aren’t improving, that could be a potential clue that there could be a disorder going on,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin recommends parents with concerns reach out for advice from their pediatrician, who would have known the child over time and can discuss how the child is developing.

“Maybe a mental health clinician, like a therapist or counselor would be appropriate. Maybe the school counseling department could be a good resource and connect with appropriate supports,” Goodwin said. “And a person like me, a child psychiatrist comes into the picture when some of those thinking and behavior therapy strategies aren’t the full ticket, and occasionally, medication can be useful as well.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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