Skip to main content

Mental illness is an umbrella term that encompasses distinct diagnosable mental health ailments, disorders, diseases, and conditions, that involve changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). The Mayo Clinic explains that mental health disorders in children are “generally defined as delays or disruptions in developing age-appropriate thinking, behaviors, social skills or regulation of emotions. These problems are distressing to children and disrupt their ability to function well at home, in school or in other social situations.” Currently the most common mental illness in young people in America, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, are anxiety disorders.  

Anxiety Disorders

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 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) list five different types of anxiety disorders which include: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder (also known as social phobia). Anxiety disorders are clinically significant when they interfere with important areas of functioning (e.g., completing simple daily tasks, academic performance, interpersonal relationships, etc.). Anxiety disorders in adolescents often occur in conjunction with depressive disorders or attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and are also associated with an increased risk of suicide. At any given time, one in eight adolescents meet the clinical criteria for an anxiety disorder. 

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria For GAD

Generalized anxiety disorder is known as a differential diagnosis. A differential diagnosis implies that there are other possible diagnoses, and requires the diagnostician to differentiate between these possibilities to determine the actual diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Still, the DSM-5 outlines specific criteria to help professionals diagnose generalized anxiety disorder. When assessing for GAD, clinical professionals are looking for the following, provided by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:

  1. The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities that presents more frequently than not for at least six months.
  2. The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry in both adults and children may easily shift from one topic to another.
  3. The anxiety and worry are accompanied by at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms:
    1. Edginess or restlessness
    2. Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
    3. Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
    4. Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
    5. Increased muscle aches or soreness
    6. Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)

These symptoms must be unrelated to any other medical conditions and cannot be explained by a different mental disorder or by the effect of substance use, including prescription medication, alcohol, or recreational drugs. The diagnostic criteria are somewhat different for adults and children. An adult is diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when at least three of the above symptoms persist for a minimum of six months. In younger people, however, only one symptom is needed for diagnosis, provided it has been exhibited somewhat regularly, spanning over a period of six months. 

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.

Leave a Reply

Back to top