You probably know someone who struggles with anxiety. They may even live in your house. Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health problem across the nation and among Pediatric Associates of the Northwest’s patients. It’s a problem that’s on the rise, too. The incidence rates of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents has been growing significantly in the past 10 to 15 years. In her article in Psychiatric Times (2019, Volume 26, Issue 2), Karen Dineen Taylor, MD, PhD, reported that the lifetime prevalence rate for anxiety disorders in adolescents is 31.9% and the median age of onset of anxiety is 6 years.
We don’t know all the reasons why so many kids are developing anxiety disorders, but we see how they can impact kids’ lives. We also know that not getting help for anxiety often results in long term struggles, even into adulthood. That’s why PANW has made a commitment to begin screening for anxiety, intervening early, and providing an array of treatment options to help kids who have anxiety disorders.
Late last year, we began a trial program to include anxiety screening during well child visits for kids age 3 to 18. Dr. Mari Kay Evans-Smith, my pediatrician partner in this pilot program, has been astounded by how many of her patients are experiencing a level of anxiety that is disruptive to their lives and happiness. She had this to say about her experience: “As I began our new anxiety screening program I was surprised at the intensity and severity that kids would screen themselves in contrast to the lower scores from parents.
I learned that although parents care deeply, they are not always aware of the painful anxiety their children experience.”
When anxiety is uncovered, the program includes a stepped-care approach to intervention – that means choosing the right level of care for patients who show evidence of anxiety, based on its severity and the preferences of the child and their parents. Sometimes, families will receive information and self-help resources. Dr. Evans-Smith finds that “When I start explaining the physiologic response of the body to stress and normalize this for all humans I see an ‘aha’ moment in the eyes of kids and their parents. We all have experienced anxiety, but it’s something that can be managed and it starts with awareness and education.” Other patients and parents might have a consultation with one of our Behavioral Health providers, get connected with brief psychotherapy at PANW or in the community, or opt to participate in PANW’s new Anxiety Group. Then, we follow up later to make sure that patients are doing better and offer a higher level of care if they’re not.
Because of the success of our pilot, the anxiety program will be rolling out to all PANW patients in the coming months. Patients and/or their parents will receive anxiety screeners to complete for their well child visits, and medical providers will discuss the results with them and provide resources and recommendations for treatment, when it’s needed.
We’re so committed to addressing the problem of pediatric anxiety that we’ve chosen to sponsor a viewing of the documentary Angst: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety by iNDIEFLIX Education, a global education and streaming service that promotes and supports social impact films. We’ve seen it and felt the impact of listening to kids talk about their anxiety and the self-empowerment they found through treatment. The film also includes experts in the field of pediatric anxiety, providing evidence-based information about anxiety disorders and treatment. Spoiler Alert! There’s even a surprise cameo by Michael Phelps, Olympian and mental health advocate, who has experienced significant anxiety and treatment that changed his life for the better. Sign up to watch the film. Trust me, it’s worth it.
You can watch this FREE, uplifting, and informative documentary anytime between August 1st and August 31st from the comfort of your own home. Stay tuned after the documentary too for a panel discussion with PANW psychologists and medical providers. The film is very appropriate for preteens, teens, and parents – consider watching it together. It’s a great conversation starter. Click the “watch now” button below to view the documentary. Watch it soon…we have just 500 viewings available…and spread the word to family and friends. We hope you enjoy the film as much as we did.