Why are so many children suffering from anxiety?

Ideally childhood should be filled with fond memories; special days out with families, being excitable at Christmas and on birthdays, running around the playground with friends and jumping through the sprinkler on a hot summer’s day. Where childhood problems did not extend beyond how late we were allowed to stay up at night, which toy we should play with and how many sweets we were allowed to eat. Sadly, for many youngsters today’s childhood paints a very different picture.

Mental health issues affecting children

One in 10 children aged 5-16 now suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. That’s the equivalent to three in every classroom and anxiety issues make up a large portion of this statistic. The latest figures show that nearly 80,000 children and young people are seriously depressed and approximately 290,000 have an anxiety disorder.

Amongst those aged 16-24, this figure raises even further with one in five suffering with high levels of anxiety.

Anxiety levels increased in young people

Anxiety is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions in Britain. With work, financial and family pressures, it’s easy to see why so many adults suffer with anxiety but what’s causing our youngsters to feel so much pressure?

A study published last year found that a combination of cultural, schooling and economic factors are most likely to be contributing to the growing problem. Children are being forced to make important life decisions at such a young age and they’re struggling to cope with the stress. On top of this, exam pressures and arguments with peers are also increasing anxiety levels.

Social media and anxiety

Social media is another factor that is regularly blamed for the rising number of children suffering with anxiety and body image issues. Even before the age of the Internet, youngsters were all too aware of the pressures that are placed on how we look. The difference was that parents used to have a degree of control over what we were reading and what we were watching on television.

The big problem with social media is that these seemingly innocent sites give youngsters access to all sorts of accounts and images. In a world obsessed with selfies nobody can escape the constant supply of photos which have been edited to perfection. When we’re young we’re vulnerable and we’re more likely to compare ourselves to others and wonder why we don’t look like the person on our screen.

Striving for perfection

Recently Channel 4 aired a documentary ‘Obsessed With My Body’. The programme focused on boys who have become obsessed with achieving a perfect muscular body, documenting their fitness journey with selfies. Whilst body image issues have long been associated as a female issue, the programme highlighted that this is no longer the case and just like women, men are often insecure about their looks.

The boys seemed to be defined by how many likes their photos get on sites such as Instagram. One young boy in particular mentioned that if he gets 800-900 likes for a photo, he will be very happy and have a great day. If he only gets 200 however, he will feel bad about himself, feel anxious and question whether or not people like him.

Aside from being subjected to thousands of images of ‘perfection’, research from the University of Glasgow discovered some other surprising factors about why social media causes anxiety in youngsters. The study carried out on children aged 11 to 17 found that the pressure of being constantly available on social media and responding to messages and posts is causing youngsters a great deal of anxiety.

Worryingly, it was also found that children are far more likely to seek solace from social media when they’re feeling worried or anxious rather than talking to their parents.


Signs of anxiety in children and young people

If you’re a parent or a teacher and are worried about a child, here are some of the most common signs of anxiety to look out for:

  • difficulty understanding or expressing how they’re feeling
  • becoming irritable, tearful or clingy
  • becoming prone to angry outbursts
  • difficulty sleeping, waking up in the night, starting to wet the bed or having bad dreams
  • lack of confidence to try new things
  • being unable to face simple, everyday challenges
  • difficulty concentrating
  • problems with eating
  • having negative thoughts or worrying that bad things are going to happen
  • avoiding everyday activities such as going to school, participating in activities or seeing friends

If you are worried about anxiety, please visit our Depression and Anxiety Treatment Programmes Page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available. Alternatively, you can also contact us in the strictest of confidence if you would like to talk to one of the experts at Life Works.

If you think that you or someone you know needs support with a mental health condition, please feel free to visit our Treatment Programmes Page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available. 


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