Study: How to Treat Childhood Anxiety

Whether separation anxiety, fear of social situations, worries about dying or panic disorder, doctors see the same anxiety disorders in children that they do in adults.

But those kids often fly under the radar.

"Kids who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, they are disruptive in the classroom, teachers notice it, families notice it, everybody notices it," Walkup said. "Anxiety kids are quiet, they are the ones who people miss, they kind of fall between the cracks, if you will, because they are anxious, they are avoidant."

To cope, cognitive behavioral treatment teaches patients new methods to change their behaviors. For instance, in hour-long therapy sessions given throughout the study, kids received training on handling their anxieties and practiced how they would respond to anxiety-provoking situations.

"The toolkit is going to contain a variety of self-soothing techniques that the child can use in those moments where fear or worry is getting the best of them," said clinical psychologist Penny Donnenfeld.

The study found that especially when combined with the medication sertraline, which works by helping nerve cells send the chemical serotonin in the brain, doctors saw results.

Although not part of the study, which examined kids between 7 and 17, Caitlin said her own experiences mirror its results.

"I think that a combination of therapy and medications work best for me and works best for most people," Caitlin said.

"There are people out there suffering mentally, not just physically, that need help and need treatment, and that treatment can really give you your life back," she said.

Caitlin has also launched a Web site, www.stepoutofthesilence.org, to encourage other young people to speak up about their struggles, the kind of effort that her mother, Tina Carey, is thrilled to see.

"Within two or three months, Caitlin, all of a sudden, the thing that I could see most was I could see joy in her face and I could see choice," she said. "And those two things were not evident before that."

Walkup said he hopes treating childhood anxieties will help prevent problems later in life.

The ideal is that "they won't have the same kinds of problems that kids who are untreated have: risk for depression, risk for anxiety as they move into adolescent years, and substance abuse problems," Walkup said.

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