Over 1 in 20 kids has a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, study shows

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A bad day here or there is normal for kids. But what if those bad days turn out to be symptoms of anxiety or depression? A new study estimates that 2.6 million children ages 6 to 17 in 2011–12, the latest year for which data are available, had a current diagnosis of anxiety or depression. That translates to more than 1 in 20 kids.

The study, published in the Journal of Development & Behavioral Pediatrics, looked at data gathered by the National Survey of Children’s Health from 2003, 2007 and 2011–12. The percentage of children who had been diagnosed at any point in their lives increased from 5.4 percent in 2003 to 8.4 percent in 2011–12. The study also found a significant increase in current childhood anxiety from 2007 to 2012, from 3.5 percent of children to 4.1 percent.

What to look for

Everyone feels sad or worried sometimes, kids included. That’s normal. But if those feelings are persistent, it may be depression or anxiety.

Recognizing anxiety or depression in children can be tough. Some kids may not openly talk about their fearful or hopeless thoughts. So it’s a good idea to pay attention to their behavior as well as their words.

Here are some common types of children’s anxiety and how they tend to manifest:

  • General anxiety: Being very worried about the future or bad things happening.
  • Panic disorder: Having recurring episodes of sudden intense fear coupled with heart pounding, troubled breathing and dizziness.
  • Phobias: Fear of specific things, such as dogs, insects, going to the doctor, etc.
  • Separation anxiety: Extreme fear of being away from parents.
  • Social anxiety: Feeling very afraid of school and other places with lots of people.

Examples of depressed behavior in children can include:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Losing interest in fun activities.
  • Being tired, sluggish, tense or restless much of the time.
  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Self-injury or self-destructive behavior.
What to do

If you think your child is anxious or depressed, talk to his or her doctor. A careful evaluation will help determine a diagnosis and next steps. You may work with a mental health professional to develop a therapy plan. For very young children, parents will likely need to be involved in some form of family therapy.

And although they won’t cure anxiety or depression, good habits can help your child feel better. That means nutritious food, daily activity and plenty of sleep.

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