It's called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and researchers are saying it can stay with a person long after childhood. In fact, evidence indicates GAD can lead to major depression, substance abuse and even suicide attempts.
But these extreme outcomes can be avoided by early intervention and treatment, according to a report offered at a recent meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Boston.
"Because children and teens who are developing social, emotional and learning skills can suffer devastating effects from GAD, appropriate and effective counseling and medical treatment of the illness is essential," says report co-author Dr. Arifulla Khan.
Khan is medical director of the Northwest Clinical Research Center (NWCRC) in Bellevue, Wash., and adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine.
The prescription antidepressant venlafaxine, marketed as Effexor XR in the United States, turns out to be a well-tolerated treatment for pediatric generalized anxiety disorder, according to research presented last month at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in Philadelphia.
In the first phase of the study, Khan and his team gave a placebo for four to six days to 156 subjects. Eighty-three of the children were ages 6 to 11, and 73 were ages 12 to 17. The investigators assigned children to randomly receive venlafaxine or a placebo for up to eight weeks. This was followed by optional weeks in which the doses of the drug or placebo were gradually reduced.
Those children who were already getting psychotherapy could continue with it if it had been established before the study began.
The results: A venlafaxine extended-release formulation resulted in a GAD decrease averaging 18.6 points on a standard GAD measurement scale. This compared to an average 12.4 point decrease for the placebo group. Sixty-four percent of the venlafaxine group had a positive response to therapy, opposed to 40 percent of those on placebo.
What To Do
Anxiety disorders are not a figment of the imagination. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that about 19 million Americans between ages 18 and 54 have suffer from some sort of anxiety.
This simple questionnaire from the NIMH can help you determine if you have general anxiety disorder.
For more information about childhood anxiety problems, take a look at this information from the UCLA Medical Center.