Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worrying that is not linked to any one event or situation. It causes a child to feel significantly distressed over any number of things—from the health of family members to tests at school and future events.
The difference between these normal feelings of anxiety and the presence of GAD or another anxiety disorder is that a child with generalized anxiety disorder will experience an extended and extensive period of worry, and the degree of anxiety and fear is notably out of proportion to the reality of the situation. In summary, children and adolescents with GAD feel much more anxious, and for much longer periods of time, than other children do.
GAD is common among children and adolescents and is treatable with the guidance of clinicians. Psychotherapy, for example, has proven to be an extremely effective method of overcoming the disproportionate anxiety that is the "calling card" of GAD. An experienced mental health professional will use psychotherapy to help your child’s brain practice healthy and constructive responses to anxiety.
Your child will experience periods of anxiety throughout his or her life, just as anyone does. It’s possible that she will struggle from time to time with abnormal levels of anxiety due to the pre-existing tendency toward excessive worry. However, the tools learned in psychotherapy will provide your child with healthy coping techniques to carry into adulthood, and the majority of children with GAD have substantial improvement over the long term.
How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches anxiety disorders
Boston Children’s has long been at the forefront of providing expert, compassionate care to children and adolescents with mental and behavioral health issues. Our Department of Psychiatry team members are leaders in researching, diagnosing and treating GAD and other anxiety disorders, as well as mood disorders such as:
Boston Children’s approach to mental health care is evidence-based—which means that our treatments have been tested and proven effective through scientific studies, both here at our hospital and by other leading institutions worldwide. We use “talk therapy” as our primary method of treatment for anxiety, focusing on teaching children helpful thinking and coping skills to overcome symptoms and adopt new, healthier thought patterns and behaviors.
In certain instances, we might recommend that your child begin an anti-anxiety medication regimen—always in conjunction with talk therapy. Boston Children’s has a dedicated Psychopharmacology Clinic to help determine whether medication might be a helpful addition to your child’s treatment plan.
Our team is always aware that your child is, first and foremost, a child—and not merely a recipient of care. You and your family are essential members of the treatment team, and our compassionate mental health professionals will include you in the therapeutic process every step of the way.
Generalized anxiety disorder: Reviewed by David R. DeMaso, MD
© Boston Children’s Hospital, 2012