Understanding How Panic Affects Children, Teens

by on August 1, 2014

Panic disorder is an anxiety condition characterized by sudden bouts of physical and mental disruption known as “panic attacks.” A panic attack can start suddenly, bringing symptoms such as a racing heart, perspiration, dizziness, and a strong feeling of dread or fear.

Panic in Kids

When a panic attack starts, the person affected may feel terrified, confused, or even embarrassed that others witness the attack. Some people who have panic attacks grow fearful of leaving home or going to a place where they worry they will not be able to receive help if a panic attack occurs.

The National Institute of Mental Health shows that nearly 5 percent of American adults will experience panic disorder in their lifetime.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) provides an article for concerned families  of children with panic disorder called “Panic Disorder In Children And Adolescents.” The article describes the symptoms of panic in children and teens; they mirror those of adults who have panic disorder.

The article also mentions some of the effects untreated panic disorder can have on a child’s life. These ill effects include problems in their relationships and in their performance at school and heightened anxiety on a regular basis.

A child or teen who has panic disorder may feel distracted from tasks at school because of the worry that a panic attack may occur. The fear of having a panic attack added to regular childhood stress (tests, issues with peers, family conflicts) can be a heavy burden for a child. Parents and guardians will likely need to talk to the child to see how he or she is feeling about the panic issues. Since most children do not know how to handle panic, they usually require some kind of treatment from a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Treatments for Children with Panic Disorder

To treat panic disorder in a child or a teenager, mental health professionals will usually employ therapy, medication, or some combination of the two.

Anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed to a child with panic disorder by a licensed psychiatrist. He or she can determine which drug and dosage is appropriate to reduce the child’s symptoms without causing adverse health effects.

The article mentioned above by the AACAP mentions effective therapies for panic disorder such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”; involves helping the child to deal with panic attacks that occur without feeling as stressed) and family therapy (teaching the parents and siblings of the affected child how to make the environment less stressful so that panic attacks may not occur as frequently).

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