Anxiety and Depression in Youth
Nov 14, 2022 Cassie Tomlin
Untreated mental health challenges can lead to poor physical health and chronic disease—even in children and teens. Many young patients are only diagnosed with anxiety disorders or depression when families notice behavioral problems—but these aren’t the only indicators of social and emotional distress.
Parents and caregivers should learn the early signs of anxiety and depression and seek help when kids need it, says Cedars-Sinai pediatrician Frances Pang, MD.
RECOGNIZE THE SIGNS
Pediatricians regularly screen all patients 12 and older for depression—and a federal task force now suggests they also check for anxiety in patients 8 and older. Look for subtle shifts in kids and teens that could signal a serious issue, like changes in sleep habits or appetite; increased headaches, stomachaches and tantrums; or a decline in school performance. It’s normal for young people to get sad, angry or worried after a bad test score or an argument with a parent—but when the stress subsides, they should bounce back, Dr. Pang says. If symptoms persist or your child or teen loses interest in fun for more than two weeks, consult your pediatrician.
Following an anxiety or depression diagnosis, physicians can help families identify an appropriate mental health professional—depending on the patient’s symptoms and family’s needs—who can recommend treatments and behavioral modifications. Older children and teens can even meet with a therapist virtually. If a psychiatrist determines that a young patient should try medication, even for a short while, physicians will first assure the patient is otherwise healthy.
Grief, divorce and other upheavals can impact your child or teen’s mental health, but young people can also spiral over smaller struggles, like disputes with friends. In every instance, seek solutions together, with guidance from a physician.
"Children and adolescents are in a huge period of growth and development,” Dr. Pang says. "If anything is holding them back, we want to get on top of it right away."