By: Victoria Purcell, Doctoral Student Clinician, School of Applied Child Psychology, University of Calgary
Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health concern amongst teens, especially in teen girls. Up to 1 in 4 youth are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Moreover, girls are three times more likely to have an anxiety diagnosis than boys.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. It results in the feeling of fear or apprehension about the future. It’s very common to experience anxiety before an interview, presenting in front of a crowd, or taking a test. Although it causes discomfort, anxiety may be a motivator to work harder. Regular anxiety should come and go and shouldn’t interfere with day-to-day life.
Although anxiety itself is not unusual, anxiety that is excessive, uncontrollable, and related to distress is considered unhealthy and may be a sign of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorder as a gateway to other mental health disorders
Anxiety is a gateway disorder and never goes away on its own. Those that have unhealthy anxiety early on tend to experience chronic anxiety throughout their development and experience a wide range of adverse outcomes.
- 60 to 90% of those with an anxiety disorder will go on to developing an additional disorder
- 15% of individuals with anxiety will also meet criteria for a co-occurring substance use disorder
- 4.8% of adolescents with an anxiety disorder will engage in illicit drug use
- Only 26% of individuals with an anxiety disorder will enter university or any formal education after high school. To put this into perspective, Statistics Canada reports that roughly 50% of Canadians will go on to receive education after high school.
Not only has anxiety become a public health concern, we have an enormous feat in conquering the widespread prevalence rates and consequences of anxiety.
Gaps in research to prevent anxiety at a young age
Adolescent mental health remains an area that is disjointed and under-resourced. Past research has focused on treatment in adults rather than prevention in childhood and teenage years. This fails to address the critical changes and social networks that occur during teen years that are critical to psychological, cognitive, and socioemotional development.
New research investigates prevention of anxiety in teenage girls
My PhD thesis at the School of Applied Child Psychology at the University of Calgary aims to find out why anxiety symptoms develop in teen girls to prevent it from happening. This research may help mental health organizations and school districts become more efficient at preventing anxiety. If we can focus on preventing anxiety, we may also begin to prevent long term mental health concerns from arising due to early onset of anxiety. By focusing on prevention, we can better target mental health support and empower young females. If your child is between 11-18 years old with symptoms of unhealthy anxiety, you may be eligible to participate in our research study.