Embattled Teens Suffering from Anxiety DisordersEmbattled Teens Suffering from Anxiety Disorders

According to a report in The Atlantic, anxiety among teens and adolescents in U.S. schools has been on the rise in recent years. “Things have changed dramatically with my students over the past couple of decades,” Dr. Sharon Sevier, chair of the board of The American School Counselor Association and a counselor at Lafayette High School in St. Louis, told The Atlantic. “Early in my career, I saw very few mental health issues, and the home and family issues were more rare.” Jason Bradley, a counselor at Roseville High School in Northern California, blames the growing intrusion of technology. “With the rise in the digital world, kids very often feel rushed and pressured. There’s a lot of info, a lot to learn, a lot to know.”

It’s Tough Out There

Only 8 percent of today’s U.S. teens suffer from some type of diagnosed anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. But there are so many undiagnosed cases, that figure could actually be much higher, say school counselors and nurses. They cite increased amounts of stress, pressure, social media, and divorce for a surge in anxiety that has affected both kids and education professionals. Bradley agrees, saying, “School is more challenging, the stakes are higher, and pressure is alive and well.”

The Race is On…

Amber Lutz, a counselor at Kirkwood High School in St. Louis, said “high performance expectations” among teens heavily involved in academics and sports are also a factor. “The competition and pressure on kids have really increased,” Dr. Sevier told the magazine. “There seems to be a belief that there are certain courses that are the ‘right’ ones to take. Getting the ‘right’ grade in those classes leads to the potential of getting into the ‘right’ college or university.”

The Right Schools

Many of the so-called ‘right’ schools have rigid requirements and students are forced to take demanding courses to get a high GPAS and gain admission. If they are denied, anxious teens make take it as a personal failure.

Testing, Testing

Dr. Sevier said today’s kids face more testing than ever. This includes the SAT, SAT Subject tests, PSAT, ACT, IB, and AP exams. Teens and adolescents are often over-committed, Sevier points out. Managing school, sports, a social life, and family responsibilities can become a balancing act, she said. Angelica Marinelli, a senior at Hackensack High School in New Jersey, became so stressed she suffered from severe headaches and panic attacks. “It’s like this battle,” said Marinelli, 17. “There was a lot of pressure to succeed and do the best that I could.”

Contents Under Pressure

“A lot of people always say junior year is the hardest,” another student said. “With people telling me that, it got me in that mindset, and I was taking challenging classes. It was definitely a year when everybody did a lot of growing up and so a lot of things changed with your friendships, the classes and thinking about the future more than we’ve ever had to. That all just contributed and made it worse.”

Crisis at School

When school is driving the anxiety, counselors or nurses may be the first to see the symptoms, and they are reporting more panic attacks, headaches, and stomachaches. Cindy Zellefrow, a nurse at South-Western City Schools in Grove City, Ohio, told The Atlantic that the severity of these cases have also increased. Zellefrow said she has typically seen three to five suicidal kids each year, but by 2013, she had 12 students struggling with anxiety disorders that were so extreme they were causing students to have suicidal thoughts.

“Some of these kids see things, go through things, experience things, and are surrounded by things it feels like no kids should ever have to be exposed to,” Zellefrow said. “It breaks my heart to see a kid who feels like at this age whatever it is has gotten so big that the only solution is to end their life.”

Getting Help

“What I would hope that students know is that there is support available for them,” Dr. Sevier said. “When students are feeling anxious, I would hope that they would come to their school counselor and know that this one person can be their advocate for all the entities that impact their lives.”

Knowing and understanding the symptoms for suicidal thinking, is critical, they remind us. Teen suicide is rightfully a growing concern among mental health professionals. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.

The Warning Signs

If your teen is exhibiting any warning signs for suicide, you can help them by contacting a mental health professional immediately, or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In a crisis, you can also call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. If you are unable to take action, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The Symptoms

Recognizing the importance of the role school nurses must play as anxiety increases in our schools, the Institute of Education Sciences awarded a grant of more than one million to Johns Hopkins University to study ways school nurses can reduce anxiety. Nurses need more training to spot the physical symptoms of anxiety. Do you know them? These may include:

  • chest pains
  • quickened heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing

Recovery is Always Possible

The health risks for mental or behavior disorders can be serious. Research shows that mental health intervention, in a safe, positive environment, and coping skills can help adolescents and teens develop effective tactics for Discovery Mood and Anxiety . The goal of Discovery Mood and Anxiety is recovery. Discovery Mood has been helping families find their way to lifelong recovery for nearly 20 years.

Don’t Wait for a Crisis

Our personalized behavior modification programs are tailored to fit your family’s needs. Discovery Mood provides multi-faceted levels of care that range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, to partial hospitalization for adolescents and teens that are struggling with depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, self-harm behaviors, gender identity, oppositional defiant disorder, eating disorders, and other major mental health disorders.

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The Atlantic: When Anxiety Hits at School, by Lucy Dwyer. Retrieved October 14, 2016.

HelpGuide.org: Suicide warning signs in teenagers. Retrieved October 14, 2016.

The National Institute of Mental Health: Child and Adolescent Warning Signs. Retrieved October 14, 2016.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Facts and Statistics. Retrieved October 14, 2016.