The medical definition of anxiety provided in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.” Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress and depending on its severity can manifest in a variety of ways. While fleeting anxiety is unavoidable, it is atypical for an adolescent to experience persistent and debilitating symptoms of anxiety. A young person may be struggling with an anxiety disorder when pervasive anxiety interferes with his or her ability to function in daily life.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) asserts: “Anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions, each having unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.” The exact cause for developing an anxiety disorder remains unknown. Research suggests that it is likely due to a combination of contributing factors such as psychological, environmental, genetic, and developmental factors. The different types of anxiety disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and their respective prevalence within the adolescent population include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): characterized by severe ongoing anxiety and exaggerated worry and tension (even when there is little or nothing to provoke it) that interferes with daily activities. Data reported in the 2017 National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) estimates approximately 2.2% of young people between the ages of 13-18 had generalized anxiety disorder.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): characterized by intrusive, unreasonable thoughts and/ or fears (obsessions) that commonly lead to compulsive, repetitive behaviors (compulsions). OCD is one of the more common mental illnesses of children and adolescents, with a prevalence of 1% to 3%.
- Panic disorder: characterized by the sudden onset of recurring panic attacks that occur spontaneously and without cause. An estimated 2.3% of adolescents meet the diagnostic criteria for panic disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): characterized by symptoms of avoidance and nervous system arousal after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication- Adolescent Supplement, which includes a nationally representative sample of over 10,000 adolescents aged 13-18, indicates that PTSD affects roughly 5% of adolescents.
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia): characterized by severe feelings of self-consciousness and insecurity in social settings. Social anxiety disorder is estimated to affect 9.1% of children in America.
- Separation anxiety disorder: characterized by an exaggeration of otherwise developmentally normal anxiety manifested by excessive concern, worry, and even dread of the real or anticipated separation from an attachment figure. Researchers estimate that childhood separation anxiety disorder is prevalent in approximately 1-4% of the general pediatric population.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Approximately 20% of the U.S. population is affected by anxiety disorders at any given time, and reports indicate that on average nearly 8% of teens between the ages of 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder with symptoms commonly appearing around the age of 6. The difference between typical adolescent anxiety and an anxiety disorder lays in the nature of symptoms, in their severity, frequency, and the degree to which they affect one’s ability to function in daily life.
Further Information and Support
For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.