Are Some Children More Likely to Experience Anxiety Disorders Than Others?

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child anxiety disorders

Over the last decade, experts have witnessed a significant increase in the demand for mental health services, especially for children and adolescents.

Even though parents and caregivers have become more aware of the devastating consequences of mental illness in children, recent data paint a relatively grim picture.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 322 million people in the world with depression and another 264 million dealing with anxiety disorders.

But to understand the full extent of this growing problem, first we need to take a closer look at how anxiety disorders affect children.

Anxiety Disorders in Children

Anxiety is an emotional state defined by a feeling of insecurity that seems to be present all the time, regardless of the context. People struggling with anxiety disorders experience excessive and uncontrollable worries related to potential or perceived dangers.

Anxiety can hold children back academically, socially, and cognitively. They may have fears of raising their hand in class, giving the wrong answer to a question, or even miscommunicating. Socially it is difficult for a child with anxiety to make friends and function in groups.

Children who are dealing with anxiety disorders will:

  • Experience intense fear whenever they are away from parents or caregivers.
  • Seek reassurance from parents, caregivers, and teachers.
  • Worry most of the time.
  • Avoid new places, situations, and people.
  • Have problems concentrating in school.
  • Have difficulties falling asleep.
  • Experience headaches, nausea, and stomach pains, in the absence of a medical condition which might explain their symptoms.

Fortunately, recent advancements in mental health have allowed counselors and therapists to provide a wide array of online and offline resources for both parents and children.   

Some Facts and Stats

Based on current reports from all over the world, it is nearly impossible to give a yes-or-no answer to the question: Is anxiety more prevalent in children compared to other groups?

That is mainly because the prevalence of anxiety disorders in children (and all other age groups, for that matter) varies depending on numerous factors such as cultural background, socio-economic status, and access to mental health services.

Nevertheless, let’s take the time to crunch the numbers and get a better sense of how anxiety affects children and adolescents.

global prevalence of anxiety disorders by age and sex
Source: World Health Organization, 2017

As you can see from this graph, globally, there is only a slight difference (approximately 0.5%) between the prevalence of anxiety in children and adolescents compared to adults. However, if we look at the difference between sexes, girls are almost twice as likely to develop anxiety disorders compared to boys.

Furthermore, anxiety is the sixth leading cause of illness and disability among children aged 10-14 years and ninth for adolescents aged 15-19 years. Conditions like anxiety and depression are responsible for 16% of the global burden of disease in children and adolescents. 

In the U.S., recent studies indicate that approximately 7% of all children aged 3-17 years are currently dealing with anxiety disorders. That’s roughly 4.4 million children and adolescents struggling with a diagnosable and treatable condition.

The same numbers have also been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the worst part is that only 6 out of 10 children (aged 3-17 years) receive proper treatment for anxiety.

Depression, Anxiety, Behavior Disorders, by Age

Even though anxiety appears to have the highest prevalence rate among children in the U.S., experts advise parents and teachers to be mindful of other emotional or behavioral problems that kids might exhibit.

In fact, anxiety disorders (like any other emotional or mental problem) are often accompanied by depression and conduct disorder, leading to even higher rates of illness and disability among children and adolescents.

This often translates to poor academic performance, lack of social skills, and low quality of life.

The Takeaway

As you can see, the prevalence of anxiety in children is relative and often subject to changes caused by numerous environmental and cultural factors, not to mention differences in population sampling (some measure anxiety in children aged 3-17 years while others focus on children aged 5-19 years) and possible erroneous data processing.

But regardless of whether or not the prevalence of anxiety disorders is higher among children compared to other groups, most experts seem to agree that anxiety in children is on the rise, and early detection is crucial if we wish to “flatten the curve.” 

The impact of anxiety on children is far more significant than in adults mainly because children lack the emotional and mental skills to cope with adversity or trauma on their own. In other words, even though they experience emotional suffering and behavioral problems, children do not possess the level of self-awareness necessary to understand precisely what they are dealing with.

And that’s why responsibility falls mostly on the shoulders of parents, caregivers, and teachers who need to be on the lookout for possible signs and consult with mental health professionals whenever they suspect a child might be dealing with anxiety.

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I am a licensed Clinical Psychologist, CBT practitioner, and content My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to help people manage and prevent two of the most common emotional problems – anxiety and depression.
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