More children in Ireland are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders - but why? 2 years ago

More children in Ireland are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders - but why?

mental health month

"Anxious children tend to have anxious parents."

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In 2003, 5.4 percent of children in America had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety.

In 2011, that number had risen to 8.4 percent, with rates of anxiety diagnoses increasing significantly while depression rates remained steady.

Similarly, a recent Irish study showed that children as young as four were presenting with anxiety and self-harm related issues, with the vast majority of student-problems having links to either family issues or anxiety.

So, why are more and more children being diagnosed with anxiety disorders?

While many of the triggers for anxiety remain similar across all age groups, there are certain factors that that can make it more likely for a child to experience the condition.

One of the more prominent ones is social media.

Child psychotherapist, Dr John Sharry, says that people are under more stress these days in general, meaning that children are going to be under more stress too.

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"A lot of that has to do with social media," he says. "It’s a major source."

"It increases the levels of anxiety the more we use it. It depicts who you’re friends with and how you fit in and those pressures to fit in are there all the time.

"They used to only exist in school, but now everything is connected and children can see who’s saying what all the time."

School pressures, exams, and bullying can also be particularly troublesome when it comes to developing mental health issues in children - especially as they come into the teenage years.

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"Bullying and exclusion is more common in secondary schools," says Dr Sharry.

"You’ve also got things like the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert that are so narrowly defined - it leads to children and teenagers thinking they’re not good enough."

A study conducted this year showed that one in three Irish children under the age of 13 had experience of a mental health issue.

The research, supported by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, showed that because of this, school teachers and principals across the country were concerned that these issues would only worsen as the children grow up.

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Essentially, the problems need to be addressed at the source.

Dr Sharry says that while the core principals of treatment for anxiety are the same for adults and children, children often need to be engaged in a different way.

“Children may not understand they need to talk so we need to help them to talk and not bottle it up," he says.

"We wind ourselves up when we’re worried and that makes it worse, the inner dialogue can become more damaging. We need to be able to express it, name the anxiety, and see where it’s coming from.

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“Children need to be listened to, and they need to be helped to problem solve. They need to address what’s worrying them and making them feel this way - that’s the first step."

Dr Sharry explains that children with anxiety need to be taught how to manage their thoughts and feelings. They also need to be given the tools to challenge the more destructive or oppressive thoughts by changing them and imagining different scenarios.

This can be achieved through games or analogies that are more child-friendly.

“Because they’re children, we can engage them in different ways," he says. "We might present them a map of the body or a drawing and ask them where they feel the anxiety on their body, if they feel sweaty or tense.

"We could play relaxing games, get them to imagine they’re different kinds of animals. The techniques are the same, they’re just child-friendly."

Dr Sharry is running a number of parenting workshops around the country in November and January of next year.

These events will focus on building children's self esteem, managing stress, and helping children to overcome anxiety - something that he says benefits both the child and their parents.

“Anxious children tend to have anxious parents," he says. "So they’ll have overactive imaginations and be thinking of all the things that can go wrong.

"Once a child is getting help though, the parents are pleased - they’re helping their child and they’re helping themselves too."

You can read more about Dr Sharry's work and his upcoming workshops in Cork, Dublin, and Galway here. 


November is Mental Health Month on Her, where we'll be talking to you and the experts about some of the common - and the not so common - disorders and conditions affecting women in Ireland today. 

You can follow the rest of our Mental Health Month series here. 

Want to get in touch? Email me at Jade@her.ie.