When psychology professor Dr. Philip Kendall created the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic in the late 1980s, he said about 10 percent of the population had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
The percentage of children and adolescents has doubled since Kendall created the clinic, he said.
“The clinic began as a way to study anxiety in kids because they need to be treated, but it’s grown over time because anxiety has grown,” Kendall said.
The clinic in Weiss Hall has treated thousands of youths since its inception. Treatment options are constrained by the number of people on staff, and though the number of patients they see annually has not risen, the numbers of those in need are continually rising, Kendall said.
The clinic focuses on techniques to help children with anxiety disorders cope with their fear. Anxiety at a young age tends to be a gateway for deeper problems later in life, and the clinic aims to prevent this with therapy and medication, Kendall said.
Children and adolescents ages 7 to 17 who have anxiety that interferes with their social or academic activities will get a full psychological assessment at the clinic, and then participate in projects that are evaluated for their treatment.
Most recently, the clinic has been working on ways to increase the ways parents can help their children and develop “emotional understanding,” which teaches children proper ways to express emotion, Kendall added.
“Anxiety as a problem affects about 20 percent of children, but anxiety as an emotion affects everyone,” Kendall said. “Everyone has had a time in their life where they have felt extremely anxious for a good reason. These people who suffer with an anxiety disorder feel this way more often [without] a legitimate reason for it.”
The most effective treatment the clinic administers is the Coping Cat program, that combines medication with exercises to help the patient “grow from a scaredy-cat to a coping-cat” and to understand and live with anxiety, Kendall said. At least 60 percent of participants experienced positive changes with their anxiety.
The biggest triggers for anxiety in young people are social judgement by peers and performance-related anxiety, like when speaking to a group or presenting an assignment in class, Kendall added.
Sophomore social work major Mikayla Ferrell was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when she sought counseling from Tuttleman Counseling Services her freshman year.
“For as long as I can remember, I grew up having anxiety,” Ferrell said. “But I didn’t know that it was a thing or what it was until I was a teenager. I thought it was normal to feel anxious all the time.”
Ferrell’s anxiety is often provoked by the feeling of “not doing enough,” simple tasks or people raising their voices at her, she said.These things can also trigger panic attacks, which Ferrell said began as a teenager.
“Anxiety makes me feel like I need to be busy doing something at all times,” she added. “It basically affects every part of my life in some way or another.”
Ferrell said she thinks diagnosing children with anxiety disorders at an early age will decrease the number of people who go untreated for the “invisible” illness and hopes that treatment will lessen the negative impact mental illnesses can have on children as they grow.
Junior media studies and production major Katherine Gardner suffers from five different eye diseases that impact her ability to walk around campus because she is visually impaired.
Her anxiety stems from the fear of walking into unobservant students who are on their phones or wearing headphones. Students tend to trip her or break her cane because they are not paying attention, she said.
“I had anxiety issues as a kid because of mental abuse and physical neglect from my mother,” Gardner said. “Those issues led me to be fearful of others.”
Gardner added that she was never treated for anxiety as a child but thinks it would have helped.
Kendall said he hopes the clinic will help to diagnose the disorder early in a child’s development.
“It’s an early-identifiable problem that leads to deeper problems down the road, so it’s important that we catch it early before it gets worse,” Kendall said. “It’s been very motivating to work with kids who are tightly wound, because when you loosen them up it’s very rewarding.”