anxious teenager.

Severe Anxiety Disorder Among American Teenagers

How many people have anxiety? 

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders in the US. It has been reported by the National Institute of Mental Health that nearly one-third of American teenagers and adults suffer from anxiety. However, this condition isn’t often seen as a severe problem. 

What are the causes of social anxiety in teens?

To give an answer to this question, we’ll first need to explain how extreme anxiety works and how people normally see this disorder. 

Philip Kendall, the director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University in Philadelphia, tells us that high anxiety disorders are commonly overlooked or dismissed by most people since everybody shows signs of anxiety throughout their lives. 

Up to a certain point, anxiety has an evolutionary purpose as it helps an individual survive by detecting and avoiding potential dangers. 

However, people who suffer from severe anxiety tend to often have extreme fight or flight reactions where other people see no danger at all.

Needless to say, that isn’t always the case. Here is a list of some of the most common causes of social anxiety in teenagers:

Abusive Environment

Many young people can have good reasons to have extreme reactions when the situation in front of them looks even slightly dangerous. In some cases, this may be caused by the environment they grew up in. More specifically, if a child has been raised with abusive family members or lived in a neighborhood surrounded by violence and poverty, then their severe social anxiety disorder might be the only rational reaction they know to deal with their unstable environment.

Carolina Zerrate, the director of the Youth Anxiety Center’s clinic in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan which has the aim of helping poor Hispanic teenagers and kids, explains that more often than not their neighborhoods are unsafe, and they can’t even find solace in their homes if there have been cases of abuse. Moreover, the political climate might also feel unsafe for them, especially because some of their family members are undocumented. 

Although we’ve seen how common extreme anxiety is in poor environments, addressing this problem isn’t a top priority for disadvantaged communities. Teens who overreact and act-out are often seen as aggressive, and those who react by closing into themselves, addressed as “silent sufferers” by anxiety professionals, are labeled as shy and thus commonly overlooked. 

Stressful Situations

After talking about what causes severe anxiety in disadvantaged teenagers, we might think that kids who come from affluent communities are less likely to suffer from anxiety; however, the psychology professor at Arizona State University, Suniya Luthar, says otherwise. 

She explains that well-off teenagers are extremely anxious and perfectionists. More specifically, they feel as if they will never reach the point where they’ve done enough, and they are finally allowed to relax. For them and the environment they live in, there’s always one more class they need to take and one more thing they can achieve in order to be admitted to a top college. Severe anxiety disorder in these kids is caused by the fact they feel too much pressure, and they fear they won’t be good enough. 

Among these stress factors, there’s the fear of how their friends or families perceive them, and some of them might also feel anxious about what they eat or which diseases they might contract. In extreme cases, teenagers can even wonder if it’s safe to go to the movies due to their fear of terrorism. 

Social Media

Social media can both be the cause and a part of the medication for teenage depression and anxiety. Anxious teens tend to significantly compare themselves to their peers through social media, always wondering whether they are good enough or if other people actually want to see them on their Instagram. Social media can affect their personalities and moods more than we think, however, for teenagers suffering from crippling social anxiety, they can also be a useful tool to distract them from the causes of their distress. 

Although these were some of the most common causes of extreme anxiety, there are several other factors that might cause a teenager to suffer from this condition. In order to better understand the anxiety disorder, the NIH website offers a detailed article that can provide additional information on the topic.

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