Irritable and anxious children are likely to develop depression, says study

Irritable and anxious children are likely to develop depression, says study

Feelings of fear, sadness, worry and hopelessness bother many children. Toddlers, for instance, often feel distressed about the thought of living without their parents, even when they are safe and their parents are around. Teens often sulk in despair due to poor grades in school and lose confidence of doing better and winning hearts. Such sense of mild insecurity comes and goes. However, extreme forms of fear and sadness, persistent over time, may be signs of anxiety in children.

While anxiety in children can grow out of the fears and worries, irritability can be a predecessor to anger. Researchers have also found an association between irritability and anxiety, with 65 percent anxious people reporting irritability.

Social risks and parents’ mental illness increases risk of MDD in children

Previous studies showed likelihood of significant irritability in youths with anxiety disorders, particularly in people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), where irritability is a criterion for diagnosis. A study published in the JAMA Psychiatry in February 2017, links irritability and fear/anxiety with the early onset of major depressive disorder (MDD) in children. It was a four-year-long study, carried out on the children of depressed parents in the general community. The findings of the study also drew parallels between risk factors running in the families including the severity of the parent’s depression along with social risk factors such as poverty, life stressors and onset of MDD in adolescence.

The researchers studied 337 families where at least one parent had minimum two episodes of MDD in the past and their children fell in the age bracket of nine and 17 years. The participants were asked to complete questionnaires and interviews related to symptoms of depression and their life circumstances. The researchers noted that none of the participants had depression at the start of the study. However, by the time the teens attained an average age of 14 years, six boys and 14 girls showed at least one episode of MDD.

Researchers emphasized that these findings can be instrumental in treating depressive symptoms in new adolescents. This can pave way for healthcare professionals to consider social risks, such as poverty and psychosocial factors before introducing interventional strategies alongside clinical features in the high-risk children. Investigators, led by Francis Rice, Ph.D., from Cardiff University, Wales, said, “Our findings suggest that primary prevention methods for depression in groups with high familial risk will need to include effective treatment of parental depression, irritability, and fear/anxiety in the child and consider social risk factors.”

Interestingly, the increased effect of irritability and anxiety on first-time depression symptoms was independent of the parent and family history of depression. Therefore, as researchers suggested, this study presents irritability and anxiety in children as important considerations for the healthcare professionals to develop preventive strategies to treat subsequent depression.

Anxiety vs. anxiety disorder

Anxiety is normal in childhood. There are phases when children feel anxious about certain things in their life. However, the difference between anxiety as a phase and anxiety as a disorder is that a phase is temporary and usually does not cause harm to the child. An anxiety disorder, on the contrary, is troublesome for the child who experiences fear, shyness and nervousness. He or she starts to avoid places, social interaction and activities, despite presence and support of parents, caretakers and teachers.

Anxiety disorders, over the time, tend to affect the daily life of a child who starts to become distressed and uncomfortable. Unlike a temporary phase of anxiety, which vanishes as soon as the child is assured of company and comfort of near ones, anxiety disorders require medical attention else, they may lead to serious complications including suicide thoughts, substance abuse and violent behavior.

Helping children with anxiety and irritability

Anxiety disorders in children are treatable with effective psychotherapeutic approaches. Parent training can also play an important role in decreasing a child’s aggression and irritability. Though it is not possible to control the genes being passed on to children, parents can keep the home environment stress-free and treat their own mental problems to keep their children away from similar disorders.

If you think your child is showing anxiety or irritable behavior, contact the Texas Depression Treatment Help to discuss effective treatment options. Call our 24/7 helpline number 866-827-0282 or chat online for information on treatment centers for depression in Texas.