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Published on May 04, 2018

Mental Health: Anxiety and Depression in Kids and Adults

Depression in adults and kids

In this series:

Dealing with Stress & Anxiety in Children

Just like adults, children can experience stress and anxiety. As much as we try to protect and shelter them, technology makes news and information so easily available that it’s almost impossible to prevent children from seeing and hearing about scary or sad things going on the world. Some anxiety is normal, like if they’re anticipating an upcoming event or vacation, but anxiety becomes a problem when they don’t know how to process the feelings and it leads to excessive worry.

When children are too scared to talk about their worries, the effects of it can still be seen. Some will internalize their worry and you’ll notice a change in their sleep or eating habits, not wanting to go to school, or isolating themselves. Others will exhibit external symptoms like aggression, impulsive risk-taking, becoming loud and defiant, or acting differently around their peers.

When a child’s anxiety becomes debilitating and begins interfering with everyday activities, parents should seek advice and evaluation from their child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional. They can help determine how serious the anxiety is and give you calming and relaxation exercises to use at home. If parents or children have concerns about seeing a mental health professional, just think of it as an emotional checkup, not unlike the physical checkups children normally get. The more support a child has, the easier it is to help them with their anxiety. Therefore, parents are encouraged to discuss how their child is doing with their teachers and any other caregivers.

Dr. Kim Hoover is a psychiatrist that is board certified in child and adolescent psychiatry with Cone Health Outpatient Behavioral Health at Kernersville and a member of Cone Health Medical Group.

Stress & Anxiety in Adults

Everyone experiences stress at one time or another, at all stages of life. We all respond to stress differently though and need to learn how to cope with it when it comes. Feeling stressed or anxious is normal, but if these feelings start to become overwhelming and affect your ability to perform normal tasks or cause difficulty sleeping, then it is time to seek help.

Stress-relieving activities like exercise, rest or listening to music are a great way to overcome everyday stress. Everyone relaxes in a different way, so it is important that you figure out what works best for you. If the activities that normally help you feel better are not working or your feelings of stress and anxiety are becoming overpowering, it may be time to look for professional help.

Seeking treatment from a licensed professional can help you navigate your feelings without letting them overwhelm you. If you are experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety that are impairing your daily life, you should talk to your Primary Care Physician or seek an evaluation from a behavioral health specialist.

Benny Lucas is the chief nursing officer and vice president for patient care services at Cone Health Behavioral Health Hospital.

Depression in Children

Children and adolescents can experience depression just like adults, but it often manifests in different ways with different symptoms. Young children may not fully understand how they are feeling or be able to describe it but will act out in other ways. They may start having problems at school or at home, hitting others, breaking things, expressing low self-esteem, complaining consistently about headaches or other pains, discussing suicide or acting paranoid.

If parents notice that their child has been acting differently, start asking questions and pay attention to how they describe themselves or how they depict themselves in drawings. Often children who are depressed may draw themselves away from others or they may talk about getting in trouble a lot. Unlike adults, children may still enjoy some of their favorite activities even though they’re depressed, which can be confusing to parents.

Part of adolescence involves testing boundaries and growing independent, which can make it harder for parents to differentiate between normal changes in behavior and signs of depression. For this age group, it’s important to look for:

  • dropping grades
  • not participating in normal activities
  • changes in eating or sleeping habits

Teenagers who suffer from depression are less likely to want to confide in an adult and are better at hiding their feelings than children. Instead, they may look to their friends for coping mechanisms. To help catch depression early, the American Academy of Pediatrics has released new screening guidelines that recommend that all children twelve and older are screened for depression at each wellness visit.

The earlier depression is detected and diagnosed, the better the treatment outcomes. Therefore, if you suspect signs of depression in your child or teen, discuss it with their doctor immediately, as they may need a referral to a behavioral health professional. Fortunately, treatment methods have proven to help children and adolescents overcome depression. Parents can help by talking to their children early about feelings, helping them name them, and by modeling coping mechanisms like breathing exercises.

Dr. Alex Eksir is a psychiatrist at Cone Health Outpatient Behavioral Health at Greensboro and a member of Cone Health Medical Group.