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How to prevent anxiety disorders in healthy kids
Early intervention reduces the development of anxiety disorders in at-risk kids, a new study reports. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
The key to helping kids at risk for anxiety disorders is to take action sooner rather than later, according to a new study, published this month in The American Journal of Psychiatry (paywall).

Researchers worked with 136 families in which one parent had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which can be inherited. Seventy of the families took part in eight family-therapy sessions aimed at providing healthy coping mechanisms, while the other 66 were simply asked to read through a handout about anxiety issues.

"One year later, the children were assessed for anxiety disorders," Quartz reported. "While 31 percent of those who received the handout were diagnosed, just 5 percent of children who'd received family therapy were found to have an anxiety disorder."

These findings offer hope for parents who worry about what inheriting their genes will do to their kids, the study's lead researcher, Golda Ginsburg, told NPR.

"The parents who suffered with anxiety themselves had it since they were children, and they did not want their children to suffer in the same way that they did," she said.

Unhealthy anxiety, defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as an "excessive irrational dread of everyday situations" that interferes with daily activities, stems from a variety of causes, including genetic and environmental factors.

"Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults," the organization reported, noting that few sufferers get the treatment they need.

Ginsburg believes the new research highlights the value of expanding access to therapy even before a child is showing signs of a mental health issue, she told NPR.

"In the medical system there are other prevention models, like dental care, where we go every six months for a cleaning. I think adopting that kind of model a mental health checkup, a prevention model for folks who are at risk is I think where we need to go next," she said.

Although many mental health professionals support this vision, the resources might not be available. "Mental health services are in short supply for anyone, but especially teens," USA Today reported in early September.

Educators are working to close these mental health gaps by having school counselors provide preventive care, Deseret News National has reported.

"If we can (intervene) before things get really bad and teach skills and coping strategies, students are better able to help themselves make better decisions," said school counselor Teresa Klatka to Deseret News National.

And parents can help prevent anxiety disorders, as well, by helping their kids approach fear-inducing situations in healthy ways, Ginsburg said to NPR.

"Some parents help their children avoid anxiety-provoking situations because they're worried it's too much for the child, when in fact they need to help them face their fears," she noted.