About 80% of children suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60% of kids are living with depression, but are not receiving treatment, according to a 2015 study by the Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.
The Child Mind Institute is a national nonprofit organization that works to develop and deliver the highest standard of care, advance the science of the developing brain, empower parents, and inform policymakers to support children in need. Their studies have found that of the 74.5 million children living in the United States, an estimate of 17.1 million have a mental health disorder.
There is a serious lack of awareness and a plethora of mental health stigmas that prevent young people from getting the help they need and deserve. The snowball effect from untreated mental illness is enormous, from a risk of academic failure, substance abuse, and altercations resulting in the involvement of the juvenile justice system. The Child Mind Institute hopes to combat these issues by working closely with children, their parents, educational systems, and policymakers.
This prestigious institute found that anxiety is one of the most common emotional problems in children, but it is often overlooked as just a behavioral issue by some parents and educational providers. Adults may assume that the child is being problematic when they have a tantrum, but this is not the case. What some people don’t understand is that anxiety can range from social nervousness to crippling worries. The sheer intensity of these thoughts, which revolve over and over around the child’s mind, could make a child believe their parent will die if they don’t do something or some other disproportionate fear. Some children deal with their fears by compulsively washing their hands or performing some sort of ritual that logically has no relation to their worry.
In light of the lack of awareness for anxiety and depression, New York Advertising Week hosted a panel entitled, Great Minds Think Unalike with award-winning ac-tress, Emma Stone and the President of the Child Mind Institute, Dr. Harold S. Kopelwicz. Invited to this discussion was a group of adolescents from the Child Mind Institute, who were able to see their favorite actress discuss her experience with anxiety.
The panel was moderated by Dr. Kopelwicz, a leading child and adolescent psychiatrist, who inter-viewed Stone about her first memories of suffering with anxiety. For the sake of spreading awareness, Stone revealed her first painful memories to the audience in attendance. Almost like listening in to an intimate therapy session, Dr. Kopelwicz sifted through Stone’s past.
Stone remembers being so interested in learning and loving to read, but when she hit the second grade her feelings about school changed. She had her first panic attack at seven years old. “I was at a friend’s house and I was absolutely convinced that the house was on fire, and it was burning down. I was just sitting in her bed-room, and obviously the house wasn’t on fire, but there was nothing in me that didn’t think that we were going to die,” Stone said. She called her mom, who picked her up. Panic attacks like this occurred repeatedly for the next two years.
“Was it a sense of panic or a sense of thoughts or worry? Be-cause panic attacks are usually a physical sensation that’s real, but it is not caused by an organic problem, so it’s not that your heart is malfunctioning, but you feel like you are going to have a heart attack and can’t breathe,” Dr. Kopelwicz asked.
Stone nodded, “Yes, exactly that.” The attacks were so bad that even though she could attend school during the second grade, Stone would anxiously wring her hands and run over to the nurse’s office every day at lunchtime to say that she was sick and needed to go home.
The constant worrying, separation anxiety from her mother, and the continuous need to be reassured of things like the day’s schedule became sufficient enough evidence for Stone’s family that a therapist was needed.
Stone was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (pervasive worries that cause distress about everyday things and overall worries about everything) and a version of panic disorder. As a child, Stone’s mother did not tell her daughter the specific illness she was suffering through, because that in itself would cause her to have irrational worries about it.
Stone’s Generalized Anxiety Dis-order was treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a form of talk therapy to be aware of the negative thoughts and how to manage the stress from anxiety.(Exposure therapy could also be used for anxiety by exposing the child to the stressors in increments and teaching them how to manage their response, but this form of treatment is not fully effective for someone who is worried about everything.)
There are medications, particularly antidepressants called serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, and anti-anxiety medicine. Stone didn’t feel comfortable with taking medication, but she believes that these medicines can truly save lives and should be taken if needed.
Dr. Kopelwicz stressed to the audience that it’s important to recognize these signs of depression and anxiety. “Make sure that a child knows they aren’t their anxiety disorder. If you feed it, it grows. If you starve it, it’ll go away,” he said.
Stone uses her craft as an outlet to push away the anxiety to pro-duce art in the form of acting. Singing, dancing, and just being an outgoing burst of energy that is willing to entertain all has always been a defining factor of who Stone is as a person.
“Anxiety is a part of me but isn’t me,” Stone said defiantly. She advised everyone in attendance to follow their instincts. “Knowing what I wanted to do, which was to be an actor, helped me because it was the thing I loved the most,” she said.
Photo by Amanda Moses