Monday, September 30th, 2013
Up to a quarter of US kids may meet the criteria for a diagnosable anxiety disorder, according to new data from the National Institutes of Mental Health. Psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen, writing for Time.com, describes the situation:
Nowadays, there are still 10-20% with that reactive temperament, but the number of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder has skyrocketed, up to 25% according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A report from the National Institutes of Health adds, “There is persuasive evidence from a range of studies that anxiety disorders are the most frequent mental disorders in children and adolescents….” These new numbers must be viewed skeptically, of course, because of the trend towards looser and broader definitions of mental illness. Many commentators have linked this trend to the influence of pharmaceutical companies on diagnosis and prescription patterns.
Despite these caveats, however, I believe that childhood anxiety is indeed on the rise at every level, from fears of monsters under the bed to phobias and panic attacks to severe anxiety disorders.
Last year I gave a lecture on childhood anxiety to parents at a public elementary school. I heard about children who couldn’t be in a different room from their parents, even to use the bathroom, children who were too afraid of the water to swim or even take a shower, and children who were too afraid of making a mistake to function well in the classroom.
Of course, these were parents who chose to attend a lecture on childhood anxiety, but many teachers have told me that they now have a number of highly anxious children in every class. What struck me most in this group was that none of these children was in therapy, and none had received an “official” diagnosis of an anxiety disorder (though I did give out a few business cards).
Image: Worried child, via Shutterstock
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Friday, September 13th, 2013
Group therapy sessions may prevent episodes of depression in at-risk teens, especially those whose parents are also depressed, according to a new study conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital. Reuters has more:
“What was exciting was the sustained effect over the length of the follow-up,” said lead author Dr. William R. Beardslee of the psychiatry department at Boston Children’s Hospital.
He and his coauthors had previously found a reduced risk of depression nine months after the cognitive behavioral therapy sessions began. The new results show that risk was still reduced two years after they ended.
The study included 316 teenagers of parents with current or past depressive disorders.
Half were assigned to the therapy program, which involved eight weekly 90-minute group sessions with a trained therapist followed by six monthly sessions, and the other half received standard care. The kids had symptoms of depression, but not diagnosable depressive disorders.
The researchers tracked teens’ “depressive episodes” lasting at least two weeks, as reported by the kids and their parents.
During the study and the two-year follow-up period – a total of 33 months – 37 percent of kids assigned to the therapy sessions had at least one depressive episode, versus 48 percent of those in the comparison group.
But that difference was only seen among teens whose parents were not clinically depressed when the study began.
When parents were not depressed at the time of the study, cognitive behavioral therapy prevented one depressive episode for every six kids in the program, the researchers found. However, for kids with currently depressed parents, therapy sessions didn’t seem to have an effect, they wrote in JAMA Psychiatry.
“First, we need to understand how current parental depression is related to differential outcomes,” Beardslee told Reuters Health. “Then, we need to target these factors to reduce their effects on child outcome.”
Image: Teens talking, via Shutterstock
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Friday, August 2nd, 2013
Significantly more girls than boys have committed an act of physical violence when dating, according to a longitudinal study presented this week at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting. More from NBC News:
For her study, Dorothy Espelage, professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her colleagues conducted a longitudinal study among 625 students starting in grades 5, 6, and 7, and followed them over a period of four years. Researchers interviewed the students at intervals over that time.
The study looked at a spectrum of behaviors, ranging from name calling and expressing anger, spreading rumors, and using controlling behaviors such as keeping track of dating partners, to physical violence such as slapping, hitting and biting, and sexual violence including forced kissing. Taken as a whole, one in three reported being the victim of at least one of the behaviors on that spectrum.
While most of us may not rank name-calling, or bad-mouthing another to their friends as “violence,” the researchers say they included the psychological and relationship tactics because they can have a profound impact.
“We see in other research that the psychological stuff has just as much of a negative impact on health outcomes as the physical and sexual” violence, said Carlos Cuevas, associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, who is also presenting a study on youth dating violence at meeting.
Image: Teen couple arguing, via Shutterstock
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Friday, June 21st, 2013
A growing body of research is emerging around the emotional health of babies who are born via gestational surrogate or donor eggs, which is a phenomenon that’s been on the rise in recent years. A new British study from the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge has found that children born via surrogates are more likely to have emotional adjustment problems by age 7 than those who were born by means of a donor egg or sperm. More from NBC News:
Their results, published in the June issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggest that it’s more difficult for youngsters to deal with the idea that they grew in an unrelated woman’s womb, than with the concept that they are not biologically related to one or both parents.
With the number of births involving a surrogate or donated sperm or eggs on the rise, this issue may become increasingly relevant.
The latest statistics from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) show that the number of children who were created with a donated egg rose more than 30 percent from 7,284 in 2004 to 9,541 in 2011, while the number of births involving a surrogate jumped more than 200 percent, from 530 in 2004 to 1,179 in 2011. No one knows how many births have resulted from sperm donations, but estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 per year, according to a New York Times report.
For the study, [family research professor Susan] Golombok and her colleagues followed 30 surrogacy families, 31 egg donation families, 35 sperm donation families and 53 natural conception families until the children were 10 years old. The researchers surveyed the moms when the children were ages 3, 7 and 10 to get an idea of how well-adjusted the youngsters were.
“Signs of adjustment problems could be behavior problems, such as aggressive or antisocial behavior, or emotional problems, such as anxiety or depression,” Golombok says.
There was no difference between children born through egg and sperm donation or children conceived naturally in terms of behavioral adjustment, the researchers found.
While all the children seemed to be doing well by age 10, Golombok says, the concern is, trouble could crop up later as kids hit their adolescence and are trying to find their identities and place in the world, experts say.
The most important thing, experts agree, is for parents to find a way to tell their kids about their beginnings.
Golombok and her team hopes to revisit the subjects when they are 14 years old, to see how these emotional issues play out in adolescence.
Image: Mother and daughter, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Bullying that happens between siblings should be considered to be as serious an issue as bullying among peers or schoolmates, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. NBC News has more:
As with peer bullying, sibling bullying is also harmful to a child or teenager’s mental health, the new research finds.
“Historically, sibling aggression has been unrecognized, or often minimized or dismissed, and in some cases people believe it’s benign or even good for learning about conflict in other relationships,” says Corinna Jenkins Tucker, lead author of the paper and an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire.
“That’s generally not the case in peer relationships. There appears to be different norms for what is accepted. What is acceptable between siblings is generally not acceptable between peers.”
The mental health consequences of bullying between siblings are real, researchers say. Tucker’s report used data from The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, a phone survey that collected the experiences of 3,599 children aged 1 month to 17 years who had at least one sibling younger than 18 living in the household at the time of the interview. One child was randomly selected to be the subject of three telephone interviews.
Children ages 10 to 17 answered the questions themselves; for children younger than 10, the parents answered the questions. (Tucker acknowledges this is a potential limitation of the study, as parents may not know as much about sibling conflicts as they might think — particularly if the children share a bedroom.)
The interviewers asked about incidences of sibling aggression in the past year, and they also assessed mental health by asking how often the children experienced anger, depression and anxiety.
Of the children interviewed (or interviewed by proxy), 32 percent reported experiencing at least one type of sibling victimization in the past year. Researchers found that “all types of sibling aggression, both mild and severe, were associated with significantly higher distress symptom scores for both children and adolescents,” the study authors write.
Image: Siblings fighting, via Shutterstock
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