Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Students with Anxiety: Implications for Professional School Counselors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Students with Anxiety: Implications for Professional School Counselors

Article excerpt

Anxiety is one of the most pervasive mental health concerns affecting students, yet a significant number of students with anxiety disorders remain underserved. If left untreated, anxiety can hinder students' personal/social, academic, and career development. The purpose of this article is to provide professional school counselors with helpful information about the etiology of anxiety disorders and brief, evidence-based prevention and intervention options. The authors discuss specific recommendations for the identification, assessment, and treatment of anxiety that fit within the unique school environment.

Anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed mental health issue for children and adolescents (Costello, Mustillo, Erkanli, Keeler, & Angold, 2003; Essau, Conradt, & Petermann, 2002; Muris, Merckelbach, Mayer, & Prins, 2000). The hallmark symptoms of an anxiety disorder are persistent and debilitating fear or worry that impairs a child's functioning (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000) and exceeds what is considered developmentally normal (Keeley & Storch, 2009). Experiencing anxiety that is short-lived and representative of developmentally age-appropriate fears is common for children. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP, 2007), infants have a developmental tendency to be fearful of loud noises and strangers. In early childhood, children may experience considerable distress when separated from a primary caregiver. Toddlers often have fears of the dark, monsters, or animals. Young school-aged children may be fearful of natural disasters or concerned about injury or death. Adolescents may worry about how they are perceived by others, their level of competency in school or other activities, and health concerns (AACAP, 2007).

Excessive fear and worry that meets the clinical criteria for an anxiety disorder is experienced by 10-20% of the general population of children (Dadds, Spence, Holland, Barrett, & Laurens 1997; Muris et al., 2000). Frequently occurring anxiety disorders in youth include phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety disorder, whereas agoraphobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are less frequently diagnosed in children and adolescents (Costello et al., 2003).

Anxiety disorders can significantly impair children's social skills, academic success, (Langley, Bergman, McCracken, & Piacentini, 2004; Neil & Christensen, 2009; Wood, 2006) and emotional wellbeing (Ost & Treffers, 2000; Rapee, Schniering, & Hudson, 2009). For example, a child's ability to concentrate on important academic tasks and recall previously learned material may be impaired by physiological arousal, inordinate attention to a perceived threat, and excessive worry (Ma, 1999). An anxious child's ability to do well in school may also be compromised by somatic discomfort such as stomachaches, headaches, and nausea (Dorn et al., 2003; Hughes, Lourea-Waddell, & Kendall, 2008; Van Ameringen, Mancini, & Farvolden, 2003). Somatization can lead to poor school attendance and diminished school performance (Bernstein et al., 1997), which may adversely influence social skill development (Barrett & Heubeck, 2000; La Greca & Harrison, 2005; Langley et al., 2004). Research also indicates that children who report being bullied experience higher levels of anxiety and, conversely, children who experience higher levels of anxiety are more likely to report being bullied (D'Esposito, Blake, & Riccio, 2011; La Greca & Harrison, 2005; Storch & Masia-Warner, 2004). If left untreated, anxiety disorders increase the risk of depression, addictions, and suicidality for children and adolescents (Ost & Treffers, 2000). Sareen et al. (2005), for instance, found that anxiety is the most significant risk factor for suicidal ideation and attempts.

To help address the prevalence of anxiety and its deleterious effect on the academic, personal/social, and career development of students, this article first provides an overview of the etiology of anxiety disorders, including intrapersonal and environmental factors that may impact and/or reinforce symptomology. …

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