What is it?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health problem. A child with GAD has a lot of worry and fear that seems to have no real cause. The worry may be more intense than the situation calls for. All children and teens have some anxiety. It's a normal part of growing up. But sometimes worries and fears don’t go away. They may interfere with a child’s normal activities. In these cases, an anxiety disorder may be present.
What causes GAD in children?
Experts believe GAD is caused by both biological and environmental factors. A child may inherit a tendency to be anxious. An imbalance of 2 chemicals in the brain (norepinephrine and serotonin) most likely plays a part.
A child can also learn anxiety and fear from family members and others. For example, a child with a parent who is afraid of thunderstorms may learn to fear thunderstorms. A traumatic event may also cause GAD. This can include things such as the death of a parent, a divorce, or a serious family accident or illness.
What are the symptoms of GAD in children?
Children and teens with GAD often need a lot of reassurance from the adults in their life.
Symptoms may be a bit different for each child. But the most common symptoms of GAD are:
Many worries about things before they happen
Many worries about friends, school, or activities
Almost constant thoughts and fears about the child’s safety or the parents’ safety
Refusing to go to school
Frequent stomachaches, headaches, or other physical complaints
Muscle aches or tension
Lots of worry about sleeping away from home
Clingy behavior with family members
Feeling as though there is a lump in the throat
Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
Lack of concentration
Being easily startled
Being grouchy or irritated
Inability to relax
Key points about GAD in children
GAD is a type of mental health problem. A child with GAD has fears and worries that do not seem to have any real cause.
The cause of GAD is both biological and environmental.
Symptoms of GAD are worries and fears relating to people or things close to them.
A child must have support from adults as they will not always recognise the fears or worries as an mental health illness.
A mental health evaluation is needed to diagnose GAD.
Treatment includes cognitive behavioral therapy family therapy, school input and medicines.