In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health reports anxiety as the most common mental-health disorder in the U.S., affecting nearly one-third of both adults and adolescents. Anxiety and depression often can go hand-in-hand, however, unlike depression, anxiety often is seen as a less serious problem.
Research though has found it is just as prevalent and can be just as serious. Authorities working in local counseling services said Huron County isn’t immune to either.
According to the county’s health report given back in September, the number of those people reporting mental health as “not good” on four or more days in the past month increased significantly — rising by 10 percent over last year, now representing about a third of the county. The spike made the county’s statistics rise above the national average.
As part of that same assessment, local high schoolers reported major sources of anxiety, stress or depression were academic success, self-image, other stress at home, fighting with friends, fighting in the home, sports, death of a loved one, being bullied, break-ups, peer pressure, dating relationships and parental divorce or separation.
About 36 percent of students surveyed then said they were verbally bullied, 27 percent were indirectly bullied, 13 percent were cyber-bullied, 8 percent were physically bullied and 2 percent were sexually bullied.
Anxiety effects children of all ages
Anxiety knows no borders on age. Dr. Jackie Hamler, with Norwalk Counseling Services, said she’s seen that first hand.
“I believe there’s an increase in anxiety in children as a whole,” Hamler said. “I’ve even seen it in younger children. I was surprised when I had a 5-year-old (patient) who was anxious and worried about wanting to fit in at school. Even at that young, we’re seeing a rise in anxiety.”
Hamler said she believes one’s overall lifestyle is a contributing factor, as well as the general state of the world.
“The T.V. didn’t use to have as much on it to worry about before,” she said. “Now, it’s always telling us about things that really worry people — terrorist attacks, shootings ... anything that has people worried about things that could harm others or themselves.”
Hamler said society is a cause of much of the anxiety she sees in adolescents, saying it’s put higher expectations of success on children and teens.
“It’s always been there, but it’s been heightened,” she said, referring to doing well in school and extra-curricular activities. “It’s seen as a way to get to go to college. … It’s like they can put a monetary value on it. And it’s not just the parents. Sometimes students put that high expectation on themselves.”
‘It doesn’t stop when you get home’
Steve Evans, an independently licensed social worker with Firelands Counseling Services, said he’s seen a large increase in teen anxiety linked to technology.
“Anecdotally, we see quite a bit of anxiety,” he said.
“For one thing, anxiety with kids is normally in conjunction with other things. It might present with behavioral problems and can sometimes be mistaken for depression,” he said.
“And it might be cliché, but kids might have to deal with things, for the first time ever — things kids never had to deal with before. I mean we went to school and it sucked and you might have had bullies, but then you went home. Now they have social media and it doesn’t stop when you get home. There are a lot more (driving forces) now that really didn't exist before.”
Evans said while occasionally it could be a matter of “balance,” where an adolescent might need some medication to help balance hormones and bodily responses, in most cases, there are two big causing factors.
“More often than not it involves parent-child relationships, systemic factors and maybe escalation of more traditional issues,” he said, adding the increase in adult substance abuse is taking its toll on children of all ages.
“Anecdotally, we’re seeing kids (for anxiety) constantly,” Evans said. “They deal with crap at school and then again on social media.”
“Research shows kids (who) aren’t engaging on social media are mentally healthier, better at socially adapting and behaviorally. ... It’s not a subtle difference. It’s rare finding a kid (who’s) not involved on social media, but the difference is staggering. Even pre-teens (who) aren’t accessing social media are healthier mentally.”
Unlimited access to danger
The difference comes in having a healthy break from peers, Evans said. While that doesn’t mean to stop talking or hanging out with friends after school, the social worker said there needs to be some gaps. Evans said peer groups are playing an ever-greater role in personal development.
Still, too much of a good thing can be bad.
“It’s like 20 to 30 years ago we wouldn’t want a student to do sports from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep,” he said. “We’d say ‘That’s not healthy.’ It’s the same thing. If there’s not a break from the drama that is adolescence, it’s not healthy. If there’s not a break from the hyper-sexualization, the peer pressure and the bullying and everything — it’s crazy.”
Evans suggested families limiting screen time and social media use. He suggested parents finding what’s best for their family by putting limitations on young adults’ internet use and supervising that use.
“Unmitigated and unlimited use of the internet and social media is not healthy for kids in general,” he said. “Even when problematic things aren’t happening, research shows even unplugging from a peer group has a significantly positive impact on their well being.
“It’s like anything; you want to know where your kid is going. It’s not all together healthy to say, ‘Go wherever you want, and I’ll see you in 10 hours.’ And frankly, the internet is a much more dangerous place than the neighborhood you send your kid into.”
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Anxiety — How to fight back
Counseling professionals Steve Evans and Dr. Jackie Hamler suggested the following list of things to reduce anxiety.
However, both acknoledged in some cases, anxiety can get in the way of acitivities of daily living. If you or a loved one, regardless of age, experience a strong desire to avoid problems, school, work, gatherings or any activity that would be part of normal daily life, or result to isolation or self-harm, the counselors advised seeking professional help.
Evans said the good news is, of all mental health complications, he believes anxiety and a phobias to be “very treatable.” He said it starts with mentality though and not stereotyping someone seeking professinal help as “crazy.”
“Parents can normalize it and not say you’re crazy if you need professional help,” Evans said. “As soon as you think you need professional help, people starting thinking, ‘I’m crazy. I’m crazy. I’m crazy’ and that’s not the case; you just need help.”
Some at home tips to help with anxiety are:
• Talk to a trusted friend, parent or counselor
• Channel anxiety through exercise or yoga (like that found on WiiFit)
• Arts and crafts
• Coloring in an adult or children’s coloring book
• Starting a new hobby
• Limit/restrict social media and internet use
• Unplug from electronics