A stressed society: What is plaguing our kids?

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We’re a stressed society, and it’s impacting adults all the way down to kids.

“What we’re seeing is more people under more stress and, therefore, children struggling more with typical developmental challenges that they have to face,” said Dr. Ajit Jetmalani, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at OHSU.

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety and depression are the most common psychiatric or mental health diagnoses for children.

It’s a mirror of our stressed society – think economic volatility and social pressures.

“We have stressed families and kids and higher incidents of mental illnesses that are highly influenced by environmental pressure as well as genetic history,” Jetmalani said.

Jetmalani has been working in this field for three decades.

According to the CDC, more than six million kids have ADHD. The National Institute of Mental Health says it’s more common in boy than girls. It’s usually diagnosed when kids are just starting school.

Jetmalani said before that diagnosis, it’s important to rule out other learning problems, mental health conditions or medical masquerades.

“Trauma, anxiety, stress, physical health problems, not being fed and sleep disorders,” he said. “Kids who are not sleeping don’t focus.”

Anxiety and depression usually hit when kids are a bit older. According to the Child Mind Institute, in the past decade there’s been a 17-percent jump in anxiety diagnoses.

How do you know if your child is just stressed or if they’re struggling with an anxiety disorder? A disorder means dysfunction.

Stress and anxiety are normal. It’s not normal when they come with an unreasonable fight or flight response. Anxiety can also leave kids feeling physically ill.

“Pediatricians see a lot of kids with headaches and stomachaches who really have anxiety disorders,” Jetmalani said.

Depression is another battle millions of kids across the country are dealing with. It’s more than sadness or grief.

“It really has to do with duration and then function,” Jetmalani said.

There’s a problem if the duration is two weeks of persistent sadness, irritability or anger. And as far as function is concerned, it impacts their time with friends, family or their academic performance.

The good news from Jetmalani is, although diagnoses are increasing, the stigma is decreasing.

The key is to keep talking about mental health – address it early and often.

There is no standard for when kids are diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety, but doctors say they do see kids at certain ages to start to exhibit symptoms.

Separation anxiety and phobias are common in preschool and early grade school. ADHD is typically diagnosed in grade school, along with other learning disabilities.

Kids over 10 have rapidly increasing rates of suicidal thinking, so it’s critical to ask them about it at this age.

Generalized anxiety and social phobias appear in late childhood and early adolescence.

Bullying peaks in middle school.

Depression is more commonly first diagnosed in middle and high school.

But doctors stress these aren’t hard and fast.

Don’t ignore symptoms because you think your child is too old or too young to be affected.

If you need help with whatever you're going through, you can find people to help you at 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.

You can also text "home" to 741-741 to get connected with professionals near you.

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