Part II: Fear Not – There is Help for Children and Youth with Anxiety

Everyone has times of feeling anxious, scared or fearful. Without it, we would never have survived as humans, writes Dr. David Smith.

*This article was written and contributed by Dr. David Smith, Okanagan Psychiatric services for Interior Health.

Everyone has times of feeling anxious, scared or fearful.

In fact, without our body’s innate ability to sense and respond to pending danger, we would never have survived as humans.

These days, however, anxiety disorders are like a car alarm repeatedly sounding off when there is no real threat. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern for children in B.C., affecting an estimated four per cent of all children, impacting their day-to-day life, their friendships, their school performance, their physical health and their sense of well-being. My colleagues and I in the mental health field are concerned that in this modern, fast-paced, wired world, anxiety disorders in children are greatly increasing. We are seeing more children than ever before who are constrained and made miserable by their fears when they should be feeling safe, secure, confident and happy.

Anxious feelings include a rapid heartbeat, difficulty catching one’s breath, a sense of doom, sweaty palms, an upset stomach or stomach ache, even nausea and vomiting. Focusing on the feelings can cause them to intensify, a vicious cycle. Anxious symptoms become a true anxiety disorder when the anxiety leads to avoidance of the situation that is causing the anxiety and causes significant physical distress and disruption of daily life and functioning.

An unresolved anxiety disorder can often lead to depression or substance use problems in future years.

More: Part I: Mental Health for Children and Youth – How to Get the Help You Need (Dec. 10, 2014)

Anxiety, however, exists on a spectrum. A certain amount of anxiety is normal and beneficial. It keeps our children safe and conscientious; it motivates them to perform well. Children who tend to be anxious are often model students: high achieving, diligent, analytical, sensitive, alert, creative and imaginative. Too little anxiety and a child or teenager may take foolish risks or lack motivation to succeed. But too much anxiety and children become so paralyzed by fear that they may be unable to leave their parent’s side, leave the house, go to school, make friends or participate in normal life.

The good news is that anxiety can be very successfully managed or treated when required.

Regular exercise and reliable routines in children are often all it takes to quell mild cases. Mild and moderate anxiety is very responsive to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is a process of addressing the unhelpful thoughts and actions that underlie anxiety. Thought stopping, talking back to negative thoughts, not believing everything you think, relaxation techniques like calming breathing, mindfulness meditation, and gradual safe exposure to the things you fear are all examples of types of CBT.

All children – and adults, too – could benefit from learning simple CBT techniques to turn off their body alarms that are sounding unnecessarily. In more long term or severe cases of anxiety – such as panic disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – treatment may include a period of anti-anxiety medication in addition to teaching the child age-appropriate CBT techniques, an approach called “pills plus skills”.

**********

If you are worried about your child or teenager’s anxiety, there are many places to get help.

Many online resources as well as books, some written for specific age groups, are available to give in depth information about anxiety and step-by-step instructions for specific CBT techniques.

For parents of children and youth, the FORCE Society, in partnership with MCFD’s FRIENDS Program, offers an online parent program for parents of children ages 4-13 years. Anxiety BC (anxietybc.ca) is another great site and offers detailed pages for adults and youth. Other sites include mindcheck.ca and keltymentalhealth.ca.

If you feel your child needs professional help, see your family doctor or call Service BC at 1-800-661-8773 and ask for the MCFD Child and Youth Mental Health office in your community.

Next column, we will talk about depression in children and teenagers.

**********

Dr. David Smith is an adolescent and adult psychiatrist and the medical director of the Okanagan Psychiatric services for Interior Health. This series of columns on common child and youth mental health issues is a project of the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substances Use Collaborative. The Collaborative involves multiple individuals, organizations and ministries all working together to increase the number of children, youth, and their families receiving timely access to mental health services and support in the Interior Health and Vancouver Island regions. The Collaborative is jointly funded by Doctors of BC and the government of B.C.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Black bear cubs Athena and Jordan look on from their enclosure at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association in Errington, B.C., on July 8, 2015. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant won the hearts of animal lovers when he opted not to shoot the baby bears in July after their mother was destroyed for repeatedly raiding homes near Port Hardy, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Supreme Court quashes review of North Island conservation officer who refused to euthanize bears

Bryce Casavant was dismissed from his job for choosing not to shoot the cubs in 2015

Homalco First Nation said that it will intervene in the judicial review sought by aquaculture companies with regards to federal decision to phase out 19 Discovery Island fish farms by 2022. In this picture from Sept. 24, a demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver.(Quinn Bender photo)
Chief says push for fish farm judicial review a challenge to reconciliation, Aboriginal Rights

Homalco First Nation chief reacts to Mowi and Cermaq intervention in Discovery Island decision

An officer fills up back of a police car with toys. (Submitted photo)
Port Hardy RCMP give back to local community members in need

“We leave,” says Voller “but a piece of our hearts stays in each community we served in.”

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Hecht Beach cabin in ashes. (Submitted)
Beloved secret cabin lost to fire on the North Island’s west coast

The trappers cabin was shared with locals, but kept mostly secret

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

(File)
Man allegedly bites Vancouver cop during arrest for outstanding warrant

The officer was treated in hospital for the bite wounds

(File Photo)
Interior Health says COVID positivity rates in Fernie area actually 10-12%

IH say the rates are not as high as previously claimed by the region’s top doctor

Francina Mettes and Thomas Schouten with the 200-page document they submitted in December of 2018. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Dutch man, 94, facing unwanted trip home can stay in B.C. with wife of 45 years

Immigration offices cuts red tape so couple of 45 years can stay together in Victoria area

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Premier, health officials to discuss next steps in COVID immunization plan

Nearly 31,000 doses of vaccine the province expected by Jan. 29 could be curtailed due to production issues

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

Most Read