The Calgary Catholic School District hosts event to raise awareness, identify symptoms and tips parents can use to help children

The Canadian Mental Health Association website states approximately 1 in 10 people suffer from an anxiety disorder but the symptoms are often overlooked with many people going undiagnosed.

It goes on to say, “The condition turns (a patient’s) life into a continuous journey of unease and fear and can interfere with their relationships with family, friends and colleagues.”

Paul Foxman, a clinical psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders, said anxiety usually begins in childhood.

Foxman was the keynote speaker at a Calgary Catholic School District parent information session on student anxiety and stress. He spoke to a full house of about 200 people including parents, teachers and school trustees at Bishop Caroll High School on Thursday March 8th.

The anxiety information session was conducted in response to findings suggesting Alberta children have an anxiety measure of 19 per cent, which is one per cent higher than that of the national measure. The findings come in part from the “Tell Them from Me” survey conducted in 2010-2011 school year. The online survey was intended to map student engagement but did have questions concerning children’s social and emotional levels.

“Anxiety causes the same reaction as fear but is not in response to actual danger or threat,” Foxman said.A stressed out child facing anxiety issues as he struggles to stay on top of homework.
Photo courtesy of: Adohnes/Flickr

Foxman, the director and founder of the Center for Anxiety Disorders in Vermont, explained that anxiety causes a flee, fight or freeze reaction and used the example of stumbling across a rattle snake in the woods. In that situation the snake would trigger a fear message to the brain that would lead to a physical and mental response. The false fear messages from an anxiety disorder triggers the same responses as the snake but without the real threat of the snake.

“Worrying is normal. There are normal worries among adolescents,” Foxman said. “The basic difference is the degree to which anxiety interferes with the child’s ability to function in daily life, especially if it lasts more than two weeks.

“In general, anxiety can be overlooked because you can’t see it. Anxiety is invisible,” he said.

Foxman explained children with general anxiety disorder can outwardly appear co-operative, compliant and tend not to act out.

“Anxious children often make the best students,” he said. “On the other side, they are experiencing more stress and anxiety then the average child.”

He went on to say children with anxiety disorders are more likely to be exploited and be victims of bullying.

“I think a lot of teachers don’t realize they have anxious kids in their class,” Foxman said.

Debra Campeau, mother to a 13-year-old Grade 8 student, said she attended the session because her son, who is not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, “seems to be in a valley right now and we’re looking for anything to get him on a plateau again.”

She said she hoped to learn about the signs of anxiety and coping methods. By the end of the session Campeau said she felt her son may have anxiety issues and plans to look further into getting him help.

One parent at the session asked Foxman if anxiety disorders can be misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly referred to as ADHD. Foxman said there are similar symptoms in both disorders that can be confused if not properly screened. He suggests children with symptoms be screened by a psychologist as they are better able to distinguish the differences between the disorders.

He said anxiety affects attention and anxious children tend to be restless which can appear similar to hyperactivity.

achorney@cjournal.ca