Nationwide study says one in two children suffers from anxiety

Nationwide study says one in two children suffers from anxiety

24% of youths said they had received unwanted or nasty emails, texts or messages intended to hurt them A survey by leading psychiatrists among 755 children and youths aged five-16 has identified a staggering 62% being at risk of emotional problems and a host of issues which fell short of a mental disorder.

In a first-of-its-kind assessment of Maltese childhood and adolescence, psychiatric registrar Rosemarie Sacco said more youths need healthy coping mechanisms that can help them deal with challenging situations that will serve them into adulthood.

“We don’t want adolescents to grow up not being able to handle touch situations – we want the next generation to be capable of regulating their emotions effectively,” Sacco said.

The study was conducted by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector, searching for the prevalence of mental disorders among Maltese children and adolescents, supervised by Dr Nigel Camilleri. A second phase of the study will be completed by 2022.

In what are the results for the first phase of the study, the study found that 60% were unlikely to have a mental disorder.

But the survey found that 23% of 5-10-year-olds and 39% of 11-16-year-olds were at risk of emotional problems; likewise, 27% of 5-10-year-olds and 27% of 11-16-year-olds were likely to have hyperactivity problems, and 23% of 5-10-year-olds and 26% 11-16 year-olds were likely to ave anxiety problems.

Sacco explained that some youths don’t score high enough to be classified with a specific disorder. However, these youths still have problems that will follow them into adulthood if not resolved. “These issues could affect school, and eventually work and in extreme cases can lead to unemployment,” Sacco said.

The study also touches base on how aware parents are of these issues in youths.

It found that 17% of parents had reported problems with them functioning as a family.

Breaking that down further, only 11% of parents said they were very concerned with bullying. 6% said they were very concerned with social media-related problems, 1% said they were very concerned with alcohol and substance abuse problems, and 0% said they were very concerned with problems related to self-harm.

Sacco highlighted that internationally, at least 50% of youths who reach the threshold to be diagnosed with a mental disorder are not. This figure could be higher for youths who do not meet the threshold.

“Not enough parents and teachers are recognising that youths are not coping – this results in them not being diagnosed.“This is why more awareness needs to be raised because there are youths who don’t reach the threshold yet are still suffering and not being given healthy mechanisms for later on in life,” she said.Sacco added that this extends to GPs: she […]

5 tips on parenting your kids without emotional baggage

5 tips on parenting your kids without emotional baggage

There’s no manual when it comes to parenting and sometimes, the road can be rocky – in particular if you have unresolved issues with your own parents or come from a home that was less than stable. Even without realising it, these experiences can cause trauma and will affect how you react to your own children.

Rany Moran, the owner of children’s indoor playground Amazonia, understands these things. Now a trained counsellor, life coach and parenting expert, she has begun a new business doing one-on-one and group life coaching and family counselling sessions.

Read the condensed version of this story, and other top stories with NewsLite.

“I want to build a safe, judgement-free space for personal and professional growth,” she says of her goal.

“Inheriting trauma can mean the cycles of trauma, where a victim of abuse of any form (physical, emotional, psychological) then reenacts and inflicts a similar concept of “pain” onto another person. This can be passed down and inherited from anyone—parents, grandparents, siblings, regardless of gender,” she explains.

“Children’s response to trauma largely mimics that of the parent, the more disorganised the parent, the more disorganised the child,” she continues.

“Children who have experienced violence have problems managing in social settings and tend to be withdrawn or bully other children. During adolescence, they tend to engage in destructive acting out against themselves and others without early intervention the children cannot outgrow these problems.”

As a parent, it can be difficult and even surprising to find yourself navigating your own trauma and how that can affect your children. Without realising it, this can manifest in things like favouritism, or comparing siblings to each other, or constantly fighting with your spouse. “Such toxic emotional stressors can disrupt brain architecture and other organs systems, increasing risk of stress-related disease and cognitive impairment,” says Moran.

And beyond that, there’s also traumatic content (the Covid pandemic, news of violent events) that can affect our children.

Says Moran, “It is our role as parents to explain what’s going on in the world to our children – don’t be afraid to discuss the news and current affairs with them, let them know your point of views on correcting discrimination and how violence, racism or corruption shouldn’t be tolerated.

Discuss instead of shelter them from the realities of life, so that they approach any potential traumatic experiences in the future with educated opinions of their own.”

Here Moran shares her five main tips for how to parent children without trauma.

Empathise with your child’s distress instead of dismissing it as a weakness

When working on a difficult subject, recognise signs of distress and allow your child to stop and take a break. A good parent is a good listener.

Listen to your child’s challenges and validate his or her issues-then explore the root of their problem and what led to it, rather than zooming on the inability of overcoming an obstacle, mistake or wrongdoing.

Recognise teachable moments in daily challenges

This will help young learners be open to lessons of character. Turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones by taking personal responsibility to clear up mistakes by being open to learning from challenges and by replacing shaming with naming values.

Brainstorm ideas to solve problems together. Always remember that humility is the goal not humiliation. When considering teachable moments there needs to be the opportunity for reflection.

Speak to them about trauma at a level they can understand

Talking to children about death and grief

Talking to children about death and grief

Grief is often described as an emotional response to loss; but grief is not a simple response. It can evoke a complex amalgam of powerful emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, or regret. These emotions can be so overwhelming that they often translate into a physiological response, such as headaches, stomach aches, changes in sleep and/or eating patterns, among others.

Starting to talk about death and grief

This situation brings to the forefront two important factors that need to be considered going forward:

Understanding how children process grief and death

Developmentally, children process death and grief differently at different ages. A five-year-old cannot comprehend concepts of a soul or afterlife and believes the dead person will come back. A seven-year-old might begin to understand that death is permanent and can develop an extreme fear of death and of other adults dying. By the time a child is nine years old, they understand the permanence of death more clearly and are very curious about death and the body, and may ask questions if given a chance.

With varying levels of understanding of death among children comes different behavioural reactions. A five-year-old may display regressive behaviours such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking. On the other hand, a nine-year-old may be riddled with guilt and blame themselves for the death, which manifests in exaggerated fears or clinging to adults in their lives. Very few adults are aware of these manifestations of distress that children exhibit. Often adults may react to aggressive behaviours displayed by the child by punishing them—not understanding that the child is simply trying to make sense of their disrupted life and the absence of a loved one. Most adults are fearful of death, and they assume that exposing children to death or having honest conversations will traumatise them.

For children, the experience of death and grief has many dimensions. It is an emotional, intellectual, as well as a spiritual experience. Emotionally they struggle with overwhelming emotions such as fear and guilt, but at the same time, they try to make sense of death. Intellectually, they try to understand the fact that their loved one is not coming back and what that means—they try to figure out where the person has gone. Since religion plays such a large role in death, the rituals and the process of laying the dead to rest makes death a spiritual experience for children. They try to find their own spiritual meaning.

It is important for adults to understand children’s responses and provide them with the space to ask questions, express their feelings, and talk about their fears. Families, teachers, and health professionals could play a crucial role if they understood how to talk to children about their experiences. Programmes in schools that equip children with social-emotional learning skills or emotional resilience skills should incorporate conversations around death and grief. Children do know more about death than we think. They see it on TV or experience it when pets die. We can talk to them about death by referring to the phenomenon as seen in nature or on TV, taking their developmental age into consideration.

Creating awareness among adults
Alongside understanding how children process grief and bereavement, it is crucial that adults—including medical professionals and mental health service providers—are equipped to have these conversations. In many high-income countries, grief and bereavement counselling are part of regular counselling training; it is not uncommon to have bereavement support services that people reach out to when they find it difficult to deal with loss.

Addressing the mental health of today’s teens

Addressing the mental health of today’s teens

The pandemic has left the world’s teenagers more stressed and anxious than ever, challenging both their mental health and well-being. For help navigating these mental and emotional waters, we turned to Courtney L. Washington, PsyD, CSYAC, HSPP, clinical training director, Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health Institute, for some much-needed advice and guidance for parents wanting to help.

What effect has the pandemic had on teens’ mental health?

The pandemic significantly impacted everyone’s mental health, causing increased levels of anxiety and nervousness. We all saw and/or experienced a lot of social isolation during this past year when stuck in our homes, unable to connect with each other, beyond a screen, on a basic human level. This separation can and did lead to higher levels of depression. Individuals could also experience the effects of trauma, which involves an increased hyper-vigilance and concern for people’s safety, simply because of how unsafe everyone has felt over the last 18 months.

What are some signs a teenager may be suffering from a mental disorder?

First, it’s important to keep in mind that psychiatric disorders look a bit different in children and teens than in adults. With that said, anytime you notice a general change in your child’s demeanor or functioning, outside of what’s typical for them, it’s critical that you pay attention to it.

For example, we often think of someone with depression as isolated, sad, withdrawn, tearful or crying. However, with teenagers, depression looks a bit different. Many adolescents’ depressive expressions can include aggression, acting out, talking back and defiance. You may even notice some children getting fixated or preoccupied with certain things like talking about the same thing over and over or worrying about germs and washing their hands. These could all be signs of anxiety disorders in teens and young adults.

It’s no secret that teenagers love to sleep, but when is it an indication of something more?

We sometimes see teenagers as defiant, lazy, or attribute their behaviors to their development, but that’s often not the case. Remember, any significant behavior change is usually an indication that something’s happening. Moreover, any shifts in their regulatory system like their sleep-wake cycles (oversleeping/unable to sleep) or changes in their food intake (overeating/under eating) is usually a symptom of something more. If parents or caregivers notice any of these, it’s vital that they check in with their teen and possibly follow up with a doctor or a mental health practitioner.

How can parents and caregivers go about addressing their concerns with their teen?

There are several different things parents and caregivers can do. Ideally, the first step they should take is to simply talk to their children – ask them questions and be sure to provide them with a safe space to share. In most cases, adolescents want to open up but often don’t feel heard in these situations. Usually, as adults, we think we have a plethora of worldly advice to offer, and sometimes we do, but that often overshadows what many teenagers might want or need to share.

I also think it’s developmentally crucial for children and teenagers to see their parents or caregivers struggle sometimes and be genuine about difficult things. Now, this doesn’t mean that parents and caregivers should rely on their children for emotional support because that’s not an appropriate boundary. However, it is acceptable for them to see you feeling sad or struggling while openly letting them know you are having a hard time. This helps illustrate how you deal and cope with challenging situations and that they are a natural part of life.

What other measures can parents take to help their teen navigate mental health challenges?

As previously mentioned, opening the lines of communication and having frequent conversations or check-ins about what’s happening in their life is the biggest step. It’s also important to be as honest and transparent as possible with them. If they’re not ready or willing to talk to you, try seeking additional professional assistance, or looping in another meaningful adult like a favorite grandparent, aunt or uncle. As long as they’re talking to someone, that’s what matters. Research shows that kids should have at least one meaningful adult relationship in their life to help keep them on a positive path.

"My Kid Is Stressed!" An Rx for Stress Without Side Effects

“My Kid Is Stressed!” An Rx for Stress Without Side Effects

  • Storytelling has always been a “common sense” intervention for kids who are in pain or stressed out.
  • New research demonstrates storytelling has an objectively measurable effect on the salivary cortisol, a marker of stress, in pediatric patients.
  • Storytelling also lowered subjective measures of stress, and helped children make more positive associations with their hospital stay.
  • This has implications for parenting all children, especially children stressed out by a global pandemic.

We’re in an era of endless entertainment for kids, from the rich fantasies of Pixar to endless hours of YouTube and every permutation of video games out there. Yet something is lost when a child listens to a story from their LeapFrog or finds it on Netflix. I call reading books to kids a lost art, because let’s face it – Netflix is easier, parents are busy, and there’s so much else going on.

Something is lost, though, when our kids watch the movie version of the Cat in the Hat, or even watch a read-aloud video of a story book. There’s nothing like sitting down, reading a story, and then using that story to help little humans makes sense of the big challenges and big emotions they deal with every day. This is something I’ve intuitively felt for years, and it’s why I use picture books as a mainstay in my parenting classes. Now, new research has documented just how powerful reading books to children can be.

Analgesic Effect of Reading to Children

Researchers in Brazil investigated whether storytelling has an analgesic effect on children in an ICU. They found that storytelling lowers salivary cortisol levels, raises oxytocin levels, and has a strong effect on patient’s self-reported pain scores. In addition, children exposed to the storytelling intervention spoke more positively about the hospital experience.

We’ve always known that stories are helpful, and that they can provide a distraction for children undergoing uncomfortable procedures. Any parent who has made up a story about a train entering a tunnel to get a child to taste spinach for the first time knows that stories can work. But conventional wisdom sees stories as merely a distraction from discomfort and pain, not an intervention in and of themselves.

This research documented the effects of stories on 81 children in an ICU. Half of the children received a riddle/game-based intervention, in which they were presumably distracted, but not exposed to a story. The other half were provided a storytelling intervention – 30 minutes of stories read by a trained volunteer.

Cortisol and oxytocin are hormones we can use to measure stress levels. High salivary cortisol and low salivary oxytocin indicates stress. Low cortisol and high oxytocin indicate calm. This study was the first of its kind to directly measure cortisol and oxytocin levels as a way of documenting exactly what effect storytelling has on stress levels.

Children’s brains on stress

Children’s brains on stress

Gabriel was always an “angsty” child, his mother, Camille, remembers. This story also appeared in The Seattle Times As a toddler, he was bright and curious — by nine months he was intuitive enough to test out the strength of a cardboard box before climbing onto it. But he cried easily and was quick to anger. During fits, he’d swing his head back so violently that Camille considered buying him a helmet.

His mother didn’t understand his emotional outbursts, so when Camille heard about a research study on stress and its biological and social roots in kids Gabriel’s age, she enrolled him. For the past 12 or so years, Gabriel, now 15, has visited the University of Washington for a battery of biological and psychological tests. Just before the pandemic, researchers scanned his brain using a magnetic resonance imaging machine. (The Seattle Times is using only Camille and Gabriel’s first names to protect their privacy.)

The researchers studying Gabriel and hundreds of other Puget Sound-area families knew that early-life stress can have long-term consequences for mental health, which in turn can have profound effects on a child’s ability to learn in school. But what, exactly, happens to kids’ brains?

Answering that question became even more urgent when the pandemic hit, and the daily lives of so many children and teens were suddenly plagued by stress. Adolescents are generally more prone to anxiety and depression, but an unusually high number — more than half — were reporting these symptoms around six months into the pandemic, the researchers found. Their latest findings on depression and anxiety, published this month, are a dire signal that the pandemic’s toll is steep, and they hold lessons for parents and teachers navigating an unpredictable path back to in-person learning.

Among the timely solutions the researchers have identified: having a structured daily routine and limiting passive screen time during the pandemic protects kids against depression and anxiety. Research is clear on the link between mental health and academics. Kids struggling with fears or having trouble regulating their emotions are more likely to experience challenges in school. The researchers’ work may prove invaluable to families — but also to teachers, who are rushing to understand how the pandemic might affect children’s learning and academic success.

At the start of the pandemic, the news was all bad, all the time. George Floyd was murdered by police, and social uprisings ensued. Schools were closed, and friends and teachers — typical buffers against the consequences of stress — all but disappeared. Liliana Lengua, UW’s Maritz Family Foundation Professor of Psychology, focuses on trauma / stress and its impacts on youth brain development and social / emotional /mental health outcomes.