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Understanding the Rise of Anxiety Disorders Among Children


anxious child in classroom

In recent years, the mental health landscape for children and youth in Canada has seen significant changes. Notably, anxiety disorders have emerged as a prevalent concern. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), there were 36,708 emergency department (ED) visits by children and youth for mental health reasons in 2020, marking a substantial increase. The share of these visits due to anxiety disorders rose from 17% in 2019 to 23% in 2020, highlighting an alarming trend.

Has the rate of anxiety increased among children after COVID?

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of children. The data indicates a noticeable increase in anxiety disorders following the pandemic. The stresses and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, including disruptions in daily routines, social isolation, and general fear of the virus, have contributed to this rise.

Has the rate of anxiety increased among children over the last decade?

Over the past decade, there has been a gradual but steady increase in anxiety disorders among children. Various factors, including societal pressures, increased awareness and diagnosis, and environmental stressors, have contributed to this rise. The trend underscores the need for continued attention and resources towards children’s mental health.

Recent studies have found a strong correlation between the COVID-19 pandemic and increased anxiety in children. The pandemic has created a unique set of challenges and stressors, such as prolonged home confinement, disruption of education, and increased exposure to family stress and online activities. These factors have significantly contributed to heightened anxiety levels among children.

What is an anxiety disorder?

An anxiety disorder in children is more than just temporary fear or worry. It involves excessive and persistent fear and anxiety that disrupts their daily activities. These disorders can manifest in various forms, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and specific phobias.

What is separation anxiety disorder?

Separation anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or attachment figures. It typically manifests in early childhood, usually around the age of 3-4 years. This disorder can significantly impact a child’s ability to engage in normal activities like attending school or sleeping alone.

What are the common symptoms of an anxiety disorder among children?

Common symptoms include persistent worry, avoidance of situations out of fear, physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches, trouble sleeping, and excessive clinginess. These symptoms can vary in intensity and frequency, affecting the child’s overall well-being and development.

A 7 year old who was referred by her pedeatrician to receive art therapy to treat her anxiety reported that she worries that the big tree in front of their house would catch on fire and as a result burn their house down. Another example was the constant worries of a 10 year old who had developed an anxiety disorder and was worried that something was going to happen to him and as a result refused to go busy crowded places such as big malls or take public transport.

What are the potential negative impacts of anxiety on children’s scholastic performance?

Anxiety can significantly hinder a child’s academic performance. It may lead to difficulties in concentration, absenteeism, decreased participation in school activities, and a general decline in academic performance. Anxiety can also impair social interactions and learning experiences in school settings.

Children with an anxiety disorder often report that it’s difficult for them to concentrate when they constantly have something to worry about, as reported by an art therapist at Therapedia Centre in Toronto. They also report their physical symptoms prevents them from being fully present in classroom. This will contribute to further anxiety as they often feel that they are behind with their assignments and that they can’t do their homework or assignments because they didn’t learn anything in class [due to anxiety].  This vicious circle, if not diagnosed and treated early, will continuously impact the child’s performance at school.

paper and watercolor

Can art therapy help reduce anxiety in children?

Art therapy has been found to be an effective tool in reducing anxiety in children. It allows children to express their feelings and thoughts through creative mediums, providing a non-threatening way to explore and address their anxieties. Art therapy can also foster a sense of accomplishment and relaxation.

Our art therapists in Toronto have noticed that children with anxiety often report that when they draw or doodle, they can calm down. They automatically do it in classroom or at home as the act of line making and concentrating on a piece of paper while being creative can be a protective factor. Many children do this without even having started an art therapy session. In an art therapy session, they will be encouraged to continue this while acknowledging how it impacts their body and to set an intention while they are drawing.

Can art therapy and CBT be combined in treating anxiety in children?

Combining art therapy with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be an effective approach for treating anxiety in children. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns, while art therapy allows for emotional expression through creativity. This combination can address both cognitive and emotional aspects of anxiety.

Many children find it difficult to verbalize their negative thoughts and feelings. Many times they find it anxiety-provoking to say it out loud; other times, they don’t have the vocabulary to describe the thoughts or the feelings. Art therapy will help children express these unspeakable thoughts and feelings in a creative work of art. The feelings and thoughts often seem less intimidating when they are drawn into an image or have been shaped with modeling clay. The art therapist will help children explore these feelings, identify how it impacts the child’s body and brain, and help transform these feelings in an imagery way. Challenging the thoughts can also happen in the safe way of art making and be explored in story-telling, poetry, or painting.

To find out more about the use of art therapy and CBT, schedule a free 15 minutes consultation with one of our art therapists in Toronto here.

How can art therapy and mindfulness techniques be combined in treating anxiety in children?

Integrating art therapy with mindfulness techniques can offer a holistic approach to managing anxiety in children. Mindfulness techniques help children become more aware of the present moment and their internal states, reducing anxiety. Combined with art therapy, it allows children to express these feelings creatively, enhancing their ability to cope with anxiety.

To find an art therapist in Toronto, follow this link.




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