Anxiety in children on the rise

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THANDI XABA

Children as young as five are now being treated for mental illnesses such as depression. This is according to recent studies that have revealed that there is a high increase of children being diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Head of paediatrics at the University of the Free State Prof Andre Venter highlights in order to treat such young children would require highly skilled people. Yet he states a rising mental illness in children seems to be anxiety.

“Anxiety in children might not always be recognised in smaller children since it does not look like anxiety in adults. Most times it looks like children with acting out behaviours like ADHD, short attention span, compulsive and hyperactive behaviour,” he explains.

He further says depression in children can be very misleading since it’s found in more subtle behavioural signs in young children. “Fortunately, depression is not a frequent occurrence in small children,” he says.

Bloemfontein child psychiatrist Dr Elsa Booysen says during her 12 years in private practice there is defiantly a rise in young children and adolescents being diagnosed with mental illnesses.

“Symptoms in children are mostly anxiety, mood and learning disorders such as ADHD. And I suspect in the coming five years, the number will increase. Factors that are influencing kids’ mental and emotional health are perpetuated at the moment.”

She elaborates that the source of these mental disorders varies, “If you want a child to thrive emotionally; there are certain factors in the child that have to be optimal for that to happen. What you see in the environment is that children are experiencing a lot of stress, considering the increase in numbers of brokefamilies’ children do get affected.”

Prof Venter suggests parents need to be physically active with their children, “It is very clear that bonding to an adult in the first three years of life is very critical, a lot of cases of anxieties come from where there was absence of any role-player in the child’s life, a lot of anxiety starts there.

Also it is not healthy to just tell your child ‘life is tough and just get on with it’, especially if the child is a misfit in school, thirdly exercise is a major role-player in aiding with anxiety levels. Riding a bicycle or taking walks with your children is a great way to alleviate levels of anxiety.”

Dr Booysen adds that unfortunately mental disorders tend to be chronic and up to at least 50% of children diagnosed with mental disorder or problems would continue to have it into adulthood.

“Some might get two or three diagnosis and those can persist until they are older. It is important that any illness in children is recognised early and treated early. In that way you can really work on the child’s resilient and prevent it from persisting. It is important for parents and child-minders to act pro-actively and really look after (our) children well because they are
our future,” she says.