Why do so many kids have anxiety? Some answers

Is anxiety the new depression in our kids?

We’ve been writing about that in many ways during the last five years.  More people are talking about it after a New York Times story about high-schoolers and anxiety.

That story pointed out that 51 percent of kids who visited college mental health services in the 2015-2016 school year reported anxiety, followed by depression 41 percent. 

RELATED: WHEN LOOKING AT COLLEGES, ARE YOU ASKING ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES?

The pressure to be perfect academically could up the anxiety level in kids. Shutterstock

So what’s going on with our kids?

A couple of things:

Use of social media. Social media and its overabundance of use in kids is causing a change in their mental health. Two studies out of Hungary and England found a link to kids who used a lot of social media and mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. They are living in a false world, making it hard to communicate in the real world and be a real person.

Helicopter parents. A Southern Methodist University study found that teens, especially girls, who had overinvolved parents (helicopter) had trouble with social anxiety and autonomy.

Lack of structure and limits set by parents. Dr. Leonard Sax wrote about that in “The Collapse of Parenting,” and blames a lack of parental authority as a reason for childhood obesity, the number of kids on anti-anxiety and ADHD medications, as well as why kids seem so fragile today and have a lack or respect.

The pressure to do more and be perfect. The race to get into “the right” college starts early. It starts in what reading level, what standardized test scores you get, what activities you do as a grade-schooler and only increases in intensity through middle school and high school.

Karen Ranus, the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Austin, points to social media and the pressure to be seen in a certain way, as well as the pressure that parents and schools are putting on kids. 

“We’re not the type of community and culture where we value play and value kids just having time to just be, to be outside, to unwind and to be connected (to their community),” she says.

A change in how they talk about stress. A Girls Empowerment Network study this year of girls in Texas found that girls were talking about being stressed out.  They felt like they couldn’t measure up and that they had too much to do. Now, they pointed to anxiety, whereas years earlier they had talked about depression.

And that is a big part of it. Anxiety is the word they use. They talk about feeling anxious, not as much about feeling depressed.

This doesn’t mean that kids are just having anxiety to be en vogue. Anxiety is a serious, debilitating mental illness.

If you suspect your kid has it or any other kind of mental illness, call your pediatrician to get a mental health professional recommendation. If the pediatrician doesn’t take you seriously, find a child psychiatrist. You can also call NAMI Austin, 512-420-9810, namiaustin.org, to find resources.

Or try these local resources:

Teens can also text START to 741-741, which is the Crisis Text Line, crisistextline.org to get help.