My son Angus was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder last winter during his psychoeducational assessment. It wasn’t a surprise. Angus has always been an anxious kid, with a long list of fears and worries. They shape our daily life: the predictability of our routines, our avoidance of overwhelm, time spent helping him reframe his fears, breathing techniques and bedtime mindfulness meditation.
I was an anxious kid, too. There were tests and ultrasounds when I was a child, the doctor searching for the cause of my unexplained stomach aches and, upon finding nothing, prescribing an antacid. I had my first panic attack at 13, and—because I had just eaten—it was chalked up to food allergies. My mother gave me Benadryl. It wasn’t until a couple years (and a few more “allergic reactions”) later that I read about panic attacks in an issue of Seventeen. I didn’t deliver this new diagnosis to my family. Instead I continued managing things just as I had: mapping bathrooms and exits, sitting only in aisle seats, taking copious mental health days from school in Grade 9, after my English teacher announced that no one would be permitted a bathroom break during his class.
Childhood anxiety is better understood now. That’s a very good thing, because according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, six per cent of children and youth will experience an anxiety disorder at some point.
When I mentioned Angus’s anxiety diagnosis to his special needs social worker, she wrote a referral to a psychiatrist. Because by the time you get to the front of the waitlist, you might want it, she said. His appointment was two weeks ago, and we did want it. We needed it. This year Angus’s anxiety has swollen to touch most aspects of his life, both at school and at home. We left the appointment with the name of an Omega supplement that doesn’t taste fishy and a prescription for an SSRI antidepressant that is still magnetted to the fridge. We may fill it—soon, or later. There are other things we want to try first.
Maybe you have a kid, or know a kid, whose anxiety is getting in the way of their life. If so, here are some ways to get help.
1. Anxiety Canada (anxietycanada.com). Anxiety Canada has information and resources including videos and a podcast. Most notably, they have developed MAPs (My Anxiety Plan). The MAP for children and teens is a 46 lesson (10 hour) course for parents/caregivers to work through with their child.
2. Kelty Mental Health (keltymental health.ca). Kelty Mental Health also has information and resource lists on their website. Additionally, they offer trained parent and peer support workers with lived experience in child and youth mental health called Parents in Residence (PiRs) and Youth in Residence (YiRs). PiRs and YiRs are available to offer support Monday to Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Call 1-800-665-1822 or email [email protected]. This resource is not anxiety-specific.
3. BC Child and Youth Mental Health has intake clinics in Campbell River, Courtney, Duncan, Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni, Saanich, Sooke and Victoria. The web address is long, so Google: “BC Child and Youth Mental Health.” Once you arrive at the site click on “Mental Health Intake Clinics in BC” for clinic hours. Children can receive a same-day initial assessment by a trained professional, initial resources, and, if appropriate, further counselling (triage-based, with a waitlist). It is suggested that parents with young children come alone for the first meeting. Note that these clinics are busy, and the assessments are involved (I arrived 10 minutes early and was first in line. I left two hours later). This program is not anxiety-specific.
4. Confident Parents: Thriving Kids Anxiety Program (cptka.inputhealth.com). Delivered through videos and supported by scheduled telephone coaching sessions for parents/ caregivers, the approach focuses on building skills and strategies that parents can use with their child and family at home and in community settings. The program incorporates key concepts from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Participation requires a referral from a family physician, a clinic doctor, a school teacher or counsellor, or an ECE.
NOTE: Coming up with a new subject to write about each month amps up my own anxiety. Don’t forget: this column is for your stories too! If you have one, please email me at [email protected].