Depression and anxiety are significant mental health concerns for children. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more than a quarter of teens (ages 13-18) suffer from anxiety disorders and almost 6 percent battle with a “severe form” of the disorder. The NIMH also reports that “in 2015, an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.”
Anxiety and Depression in Children
While all kids will feel anxious at some point—maybe before a test, sporting event or performance—there is a marked difference between the occasional bout of nerves and full-blown anxiety. Children who experience anxiety that causes them severe distress may be battling something more concerning. The NIMH notes that General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) “is characterized by excessive worry about a variety of everyday problems for at least 6 months” and that individuals who suffer from GAD know that their concerns are beyond what should be the norm for a typical situation.
For children who are among the many experiencing depression, the world may seem like a dark place. Depression is much deeper than simple sadness, and parents need to understand the difference. The NIMH defines depression as “a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.”
Both depression and anxiety disorders are serious illnesses and can be paralyzing for kids and teens, keeping them from experiencing the joys of daily activities and living life to the fullest. While parents who suspect depression or anxiety disorders in kids should consult their child’s physician, programs also should be implemented within schools to help support the emotional and social needs of all students.
How Social and Emotional Learning Can Help
Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs can provide a positive foundation in the classroom to help support and nurture the emotional needs of children. These programs can greatly benefit children across all backgrounds as they help facilitate ways to manage and process emotions and teach children to foster positive relationships with peers.
SEL programs that focus on mindfulness can help ease anxiety at school. Relaxation techniques like meditation or mindfulness can help teach a child to be present in the moment. All children can benefit from programs that promote ways to positively manage emotions in stressful situations or anxiety caused from academic rigor.
Many SEL programs in schools also focus on leadership and teambuilding. Teaching children that peers can help them and provide support allows children to understand that they are part of a greater community. SEL also may be geared towards teens or children volunteering within their community, showing them that they can make the difference.
Empowerment helps boost self-esteem. SEL programs aim to provide kids and teens with the tools they need to be a leader, manage their emotional responses to situations and empathize with the needs and feelings of others. For schools, SEL programs can be the ideal tool to boost self-awareness and foster greater self-worth for struggling students.
While SEL alone is not a cure for depression or anxiety in children or teens, these programs provide a support system for the emotional well-being of all students. Depression and anxiety are far too common in adolescents, and schools must provide an emotional framework within academia to aid in the success of tomorrow’s future leaders.
So if you’re concerned about the negative effects of anxiety and depression in children, push your local schools to develop more SEL programs. SEL gives kids the tools they need to process their emotions in a healthy way, which may just help them to deal with the problems associated with anxiety and depression.