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According to the Child Mind Institute, more than 17 million youth in America have had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder.

The average onset of disorders range from around 6 years of age with general anxiety disorders to 13 years of age for mood disorders.

Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Dr. Candye Andrus said the important thing when dealing with anxiety, depression or mood disorders with children is not to let it go. Untreated anxiety and depression can turn into larger problems in pre-teen and teenage years.

“Good mental health is a great way for us to learn skills on how to deal with and cope with life’s issues,” ANDRUSAndrus said. “Some of the moods start setting in when children are between the ages of 5 and 7 years old. Then, we get to years 8, 9 and 10 when children start internalizing self-esteem. They become concerned about their looks, about school and about how others view them. If self-esteem is poor or if anxiety levels increase, they have a greater risk of having anger issues, emotional distress or even turning to drugs and substance abuse in later years.”

Andrus said it’s normal for children to have some anxiety. Children worry about everything from clothes, to the world, to their parents and grades. However, Andrus said it’s important for parents to be vigilant and realize there is a time when extra help might be needed.

“It’s time to see your doctor when your child starts missing out on the joy and fun of their day,” Andrus said. “When they are no longer able to function regularly, which could mean they are losing sleep, they aren’t eating and they are just not having any fun.”

Besides a child displaying symptoms, Andrus said parents may need a pediatrician to weigh in and address concerns.

“It could be a parent just doesn’t know what to do,” she said. “They may want an expert to relieve their concerns, or confirm that extra help is necessary. A pediatrician or other physician may also prove helpful when each parent has different ideas on how to approach a child’s anxiety issues. They may need help figuring out what is the source anxiety, and how to help them cope with it.”

What triggers childhood anxiety

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental disorder in childhood, affecting nearly 8 percent of the child and adolescent population. There are a variety of anxiety disorders, with the most common being Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Andrus said figuring out the primary source of the anxiety issues can be tough given how many outlets children have at their disposal.

“I think over time, anxiety issues have increased,” Andrus said. “I would say outside influences have definitely played a role in increased anxiety.”

Online interaction, including social media, plays a larger role in children’s behavior than it did 10 or 20 years ago. Children often deal with cyber bulling, and they have access to games, videos and pictures that can contribute to anxiousness, anger, sadness and general mood swings.

“Social media has been particularly rough on children, especially when it’s being utilized negatively,” Andrus said. “The violence in video games also creates a certain level of tension and fear. Not only is it important to monitor your child’s online activities; it’s also important to watch how they react to what they are doing online.”

Without meaning to, parents can also contribute to their children’s anxiety. Andrus said parents often struggle with making the right decisions for their child’s education and health care with all of the information available online.

“Parents are bombarded with information--they have a lot of pressure, and that can be passed on to children,” Andrus said. “Children need to feel like parents are on it. That includes how we discipline our children. Children appreciate structure and thrive in a well-balanced household.”

How to treat anxiety disorders

The good news is anxiety disorders are treatable. Studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) and medication treatments are both effective in treating anxiety disorders in youth.

Andrus said often parents are hesitant about medication for their children. However, sometimes medication, even temporarily, can be helpful.

“Some children may have so much anxiety that they can’t cope with everyday issues,” said Andrus. “They may have so much anxiety that they can’t even try something new. Intervention may be needed just to get them to take on new things. This medication could be a temporary answer until they can turn that corner.”

Andrus said being anxious and worried all the time is never fun, especially for children. Getting help for children early is key.

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