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May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Anxiety in Children

By Cara Weiner Sultan, MSW

Since 1949, National Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May. The goal of this initiative is to bring attention to mental health through education, media, local events, and screenings. The hope is to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and embrace the notion that mental health is something everyone should care about.

Anxiety and depression are common mental health issues on the rise in children. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have been diagnosed with anxiety, and 3.2% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 1.9 million) have been diagnosed with depression. According to the Child Mind Institute, some anxiety is normal, natural, and part of everyday life. When feelings of anxiety and worry begin interfering in everyday life, it becomes problematic and needs more significant intervention.

There are many types of anxiety:

  • Separation-characterized by a child’s extreme distress when separated from a parent or caregiver
  • Social-characterized by a child’s intense avoidance of social situations, excessive fear of being humiliated in social situations
  • Selective mutism-characterized by a child’s persistent and intense inability to speak in some situations but not others
  • General anxiety disorder-lasting and excessive worry about a range of things, may be worried about perfectionism, and may cause sleeplessness in addition to restlessness and irritability
  • Specific phobia-strong fears of objects or situations (fear of dogs, snakes, the dark, the doctor)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder-characterized by children who have intrusive thoughts or impulses that interfere with functioning and cause excessive worry. Compulsions are the actions kids perform to get rid of their worry.

Many of these feelings are normal in a developing child, especially at times of transition or change. The time to be concerned is when your child experiences anxiety for a long period of time, which then interferes with school, home, and play activities.

The good news is that anxiety is very treatable! Mental health professionals are adept at helping children change the way they think about things, and reset their minds from thoughts of worry to more positive thoughts. Left untreated, anxiety can have physical and behavioral manifestations that cause stress. If you are concerned about your child, reach out to teachers, counselors, and friends for help. It’s more common than you think!

Resources on anxiety in children:

Child Mind Institute


Anxiety and Depression Institute of America

Harvard Health-Harvard Medical School

Cara Weiner Sultan is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program.  She can be reached at


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