There has been some recent research coming out of the US that looks at the level of anxiety in teenagers. While this research is from overseas, there are insights that we can relate to in our communities.
Many teenagers have worries and feel afraid and sad at times. These feelings are normal, but when these worries and fears don’t go away and start to interfere with their social activities, school, and home life, it may be an anxiety disorder.
Research coming out of the US indicates that anxiety in teenagers is on the rise. If you are a parent of a teenager or a health professional, this probably won’t come as a surprise to you. Across the US many school and university counsellors are reporting an increase in the number of students who say they are feeling overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure.
Boys Town National Hotline (similar organisation to Kids Helpline) reported that children calling in with anxiety problems increased by 24% in five years. By comparison, suicide ideation and depression only had an 8% and 7% increase respectively. Overall, 19% of their callers said they had anxiety. Interestingly, their data also showed that children were more open to discussing anxiety than they were five years ago.
In the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the number one reason university students seek counselling. Students may find it a challenge when they start university and anxiety levels can increase as they are adjusting to higher academic demands while establishing new social connections.
According to a survey by the American College Health Association of undergraduate students, 27% said that anxiety affected their academic performance. In the same survey, nearly 62% reported feeling overwhelming anxiety in the last year.
The Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD) Annual Survey found for the seventh year in a row that anxiety was the most predominant concern among university students who were seeking mental health services. On the positive side, the AUCCCD survey also reported that around 72% of the students who accessed counselling said it helped their academic performance.
If you’re worried about anxiety in your teenager, here are some tips that may help
If your teenager is struggling with anxiety, have a conversation to find out what is on their mind. Don’t rush in with a solution or explanation, just listen, empathise and be supportive. It lets your teenager know that you care and are looking out for them.
Try not to encourage your teen to avoid things because they get anxious. This may work in the short term, but it will reinforce anxiety longer term. Express positive and realistic expectations. You can’t ensure that your teen won’t fail, but you can let them know that they can manage it and it will be OK. It could help to talk it through – what would happen if their fear came true and how would they handle it if that happened?
Leading a healthy lifestyle can help. Prepare meals that are healthy, encourage your teenager to do some physical activity each day, and help them to get a good night’s sleep. On average a teenager needs eight to ten hours sleep each night.
Don’t forget you
When you are worried about your child, you may put yourself last. You don’t want to burnout as that won’t help you or your teenager. You need to take care of yourself to be an effective parent. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthily, getting outside and putting aside time each week to do something you enjoy.
Seek professional help
Speak to your GP or a counsellor if you are concerned about your child. If their anxiety is preventing them from doing their normal activities or is resulting in headaches and stomach aches, it may be time to get professional help.
 Reetz, D.R., Bershad, C., LeViness, P., & Whitlock, M. (2017). The 2016 Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors Annual Survey CO:AUCCD
If you need someone to talk to, reach out to one of our counselling services: