What causes anxiety in children and teenagers?
It’s often not clear as to why some children or teenagers develop anxiety disorders, however here are some of the most commonly agreed causes:
Gender – girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer with anxiety disorders.
Family history – if you or your partner have an anxiety disorder, your child will be more likely to develop one as well. The age you or your partners’ anxiety appeared also has an impact on the likelihood of your child developing anxiety – the earlier you or your partner developed anxiety, the more likely your child will be to develop an anxiety disorder1.
Part of this may be due to genetic causes but it may also be due in part to the ‘transmission’ effect – that a child will learn anxiety, fear or avoidance from their anxious parent.
Neurobiology – the structure of your child’s brain and how the chemical reactions function in each individual are also thought to play a role in whether or not a child will develop an anxiety disorder. Of particular interest is the part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for our flight or fight response and studies have shown that children with an anxiety disorder often have hypersensitivity in this area2.
Personality type – there are numerous theories that different personality types are more likely to suffer with anxiety than others, for instance those children who are emotionally sensitive or shy are more at risk 3. Some theorists would argue that emotionally sensitive children often learn a resilience about the world, that then protects them from developing conditions such as depression or anxiety later on in life, so there are no set rules.
Childhood experiences – many studies have shown, perhaps unsurprisingly, that children who face adversity or difficult experiences in their childhood are more likely to go on to develop a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression4 as adults. Experiences such as divorces, childhood abuse, trauma and death of a parent can deeply impact a child and leave them with difficult emotions that may impact on the rest of their lives. Seeking help and support early has been shown to be helpful in allowing children to work through difficult emotions and prevent the onset of further complications.
If you are concerned your child or teenager has anxiety and aren’t sure what to do, you can call one of our clinical advisors today on 0203 761 7026 and they will be able to help advise you or use this form to request a call back.
1 Wittchen, HU., Kessler, RC,. et al. Why do people with anxiety disorders become depressed? A prospective longitudinal community study in Acta Psychiatric Scan Suppl 2000 (406) 14:23
2 McClure EB et al Abnormal attention modulation of fear circuit function in pediatric generalised anxiety disorder in Arch Gen Psych 2007 Jan;64(1): 97-106
3 Biederman, J. et al Further evidence of association between behavioural inhibition and social anxiety in children in Am J Psychiatry (2001) Oct; 158(10): 1673-9
4 Beesdo, K., Knappe,S. and Pine, D. Anxiety and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: Developmental issues and implications for DSM-V in Psychiatr Clin North Am 2009 Sept; 32(3): 483-524