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Times of India
03 November 2011
By Sumitra Deb Roy
Mumbai India

Anxiety disorders are as much a reality in children as they are in adults. A recent study conducted by the BMC–run Sion Hospital has revealed that children as young as 11 years could suffer from anxiety disorders for reasons ranging from academics and co–curricular activities to appearance and even separation from parents.

The study was conducted on 450 students from Class 5 to Class 10 in a renowned CBSE school, who were both interviewed and clinically examined. The findings showed that 36.7% showed signs of anxiety disorder, which clearly escalated as students climbed grades–those studying in Class 8, 9 and 10 comprised 35.3% of those suffering from the disorder. The statistics indicated that anxiety levels peak in the age group of 13–15 years.

Psychiatrists say that anxiety, a sensation the body experiences as a response to real or perceived threat, affects children majorly. “But it remains largely undiagnosed and untreated,” said principal investigator Dr Anjali Karira, now working at Rajawadi hospital in Ghatkopar. Dr Karira conducted the study under Dr Nilesh Shah, head of psychiatry at Sion Hospital.

In the questionnaire, students were asked whether they suffered from any form of anxiety. A similar questionnaire was given to the parents, asking if they felt their child suffered from anxiety. Only 26 of the 450 students replied in the negative. While as many as 17.8% were found to be suffering from generalised anxiety disorder, 15.8% had social anxiety disorder, 13.3% had panic disorder and 5.6% of children had separation anxiety disorder.

Interestingly, only 83 parents reported anxiety in their children–when the children themselves were asked, 276 replied that they thought they suffered from the disorder. Girls outnumbered boys–64.7% suffered from some form of anxiety. Interestingly, Karira found that for girls, appearance was a major trigger for anxiety. “The commonest cause for anxiety across genders was exams. Students also seemed to be anxious before peer activities, and some chose to avoid social gatherings totally,” she added.

Another significant finding of the study was that around 97.1% with anxiety disorder belonged to nuclear families while 90.9% of children without anxiety disorder came from joint families. According to psychiatrist Harish Shetty, “In joint families, children have several points of contact. That serves as a buffer.”

At least 15 students were advised to take medical help immediately. Many were counselled even during the course of the study.

Stress Factor Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Difficulty controlling worrying and showing symptoms of fatigue, restlessness and sleep disturbance. In the study, 17.8% had GAD

Social anxiety disorder

Persistent fear of social performance situations in which one is exposed to unfamiliar people or to scrutiny by others. 5.8% children had this disorder

Panic disorder

A sudden onset of intense fearfulness. Symptoms include a pounding heart, nausea, trembling, chest pain and sweating. 13.3% of children had panic disorder

Separation anxiety disorder

Inappropriate and excessive anxiety regarding separation from attachment figures in a child’s life. About 5.6% of children had separation anxiety disorder

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