By Thrive Sacramento Psychiatrist Jaime Avra Ley, M.D.
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
Children and adolescents can experience the same mental and behavioral health struggles as mature age groups. Just as with adults, anxiety and depression are the most prevalent mental and behavioral health conditions that youths face. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 15 to 20% of youths in the United States have an anxiety disorder and 1 in 5 youths will experience a major depressive disorder (MDD) by the time they turn 18.
As their developmental stages evolve, children and adolescents may manifest the symptoms of anxiety and depression in different ways than adults. Although anxiety and depression are two separate conditions, depressive symptoms can often result from burn-out associated with continued anxiety, especially in youths. In other words, anxiety is often the primary mental health struggle for youths, while symptoms of depression typically stem from the exhaustion of overworking the biological stress system brought on by anxiety.
FOSTERING A SENSE OF SAFETY FOR MENTAL WELL-BEING
Most children and adolescents function within multiple social systems such as their families, schools, and extracurricular activities. These systems can potentially be a source of support for youths, but they may also present opportunities for the development of mental and behavioral health challenges. Bullying, social media, academic stress, and pressures from certain extracurricular activities such as competitive sports can negatively influence the well-being of children and adolescents.
With that in mind, one of the most important things parents can do throughout their children’s development is to provide them with a sense of safety that transcends these social spheres. By being consistently available and attuned to the physical and emotional needs of their children, parents can make their children feel safe, secure, and supported.
Depending on the circumstances, creating a sense of safety for children and adolescents can require seemingly conflicting behaviors from parents. Sometimes, youths need to feel protected and nurtured at home, such as after experiencing difficult situations with peers. Other times, children and adolescents gain a sense of safety when parents express confidence in their abilities to handle challenges on their own. When youths can trust that their family will be there to comfort them and encourage their independence as needed, their stress systems can rest, mitigating their risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Additionally, making children and adolescents feel safe promotes their self-esteem. When youths can rely on their parents to be regularly attentive to their needs, they recognize their inner worth. When parents express their belief in their children’s abilities while imparting that any mistakes are part of the growth process, children learn that they’re enough. Both narratives provide a foundation for healthy self-esteem.
HOW PARENTS CAN CREATE TRUSTING RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEIR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
Some practical ways for parents to foster healthy senses of safety and self-esteem are:
- Ask questions: Although seemingly simple, the best way for parents to remain in tune with the needs of their children is to inquire about what they’re thinking and feeling. Doing so in a comfortable environment and collected manner can encourage youths to open up.
- Normalize and validate emotions: Parents may still need to implement limits, but by initially allowing their children to feel seen and heard without judgment, they can calm their stress systems and help eliminate any shame. In order to lead by example, parents can practice their own emotional regulation skills, while also honestly opening up to their children as appropriate.
- Give praise and encouragement as well as mindful feedback: Parents should provide positive recognition not only when their children are making good choices, but also when they’re trying something new, getting out of their comfort zones, and persevering through challenges. Constructive feedback, rather than criticism or judgment, can also help foster healthy development.
- Seek support resources: When necessary, parents should advocate for more support from their children’s schools. Additionally, if a child’s mental health struggles begin to interfere with their daily functioning, parents should consider seeking professional guidance.
MENTAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CARE FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
Through outpatient therapy, Thrive’s specialists can help youths through mental and behavioral health challenges by guiding them in processing their emotions and teaching them healthy coping strategies. Our clinicians also offer family therapy and parental guidance for well-rounded support that promotes comprehensive healing throughout the entire family. Reach out to learn more about our therapeutic services for children, adolescents, parents, and families.
About the Author
Thrive Reno Psychiatrist Jaime Avra Ley, M.D.
Born and raised in Nevada, Dr. Jaime Avra Ley earned her doctorate in medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno Medical School where she also completed a residency in adult psychiatry and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry. As an established and esteemed psychiatrist, Dr. Ley specializes in working with children and adolescents.
Dr. Ley considers comprehensive wellness to be inclusive of the health of one’s relationship with themself and others. She is passionate about addressing mental health barriers that may interfere with one’s ability to live authentically and reach their innate potential. Dr. Ley believes a multidisciplinary approach to care increases the efficacy of treatment for lasting results and is dedicated to supporting the various aspects of an individual’s well-being by providing diagnoses and medication management as appropriate.
At Thrive Wellness Sacramento, Dr. Ley enjoys working alongside a diverse treatment team of compassionate clinical colleagues to help individuals and families on their path to healing.