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Friday, June 5, 2015

Panic Attacks. Wild Mood Swings. Worrying Weight Loss. The Middle-Class Teenagers Under Such Pressure to Succeed They've Become the ANXIOUS Generation

From the Daily Mail (U.K.)

By Tanith Carey
May 20, 2015

Nearly 1 million British children now suffer from a mental health problem.

Rhiannon Quinche, now 19, was
plagued by anxiety from the age 10,
which came to a head in her teens
when she was diagnosed with anxiety
after drastically losing weight
as a result of her condition
With her head bowed over her textbook, there was nothing to distinguish teenager Rhiannon Quinche from her classmates at her highly rated Catholic school.

But then the 14-year-old stood up and marched out of the room, ignoring the maths teacher who was demanding to know where she was going.

Rhiannon didn’t stop until she was out of the building.

While to some it might seem like defiant behaviour, the Year 9 pupil was in the grip of a serious anxiety disorder. She’s just one of nearly a million British children between the ages of five and 15 who are suffering from a mental health problem.

In fact, so many of our youngsters are plagued by dread and worry that there’s even a name for them: Generation Anxiety. And it’s middle-class children from affluent homes who are most likely to suffer.

Psychologist Madeline Levine, author of The Price Of Privilege, has found 30 to 40% of 12- to 18-year-olds from comfortable backgrounds exhibit worrying psychological symptoms.

Professor Suniya Luthar of Arizona State University is even more specific — she found children of couples earning more than £100,000 between them were suffering anxiety and depression at twice the normal rate of their poorer peers.

Rhiannon comes from an affluent family - her father Raymond runs a chain of international restaurants and she was brought up in a £1 million three-story Georgian townhouse

Rhiannon certainly comes from an affluent family — her father Raymond runs a chain of international restaurants and she was brought up in a £1 million three-storey Georgian townhouse in Greenwich, South-East London.

A bright little girl, she was lavished with love and attention as the only child of a close-knit family. But while there was no one trigger for her anxiety attacks, symptoms were already surfacing in primary school.

A combination of factors, including concern about her weight and fear she could not keep up the high standards she set for herself, meant that by the age of ten, Rhiannon was finding excuses not to go to school.

Rhiannon turned to compulsive exercise subdue her panic. Then, to regain some feeling of control, she’d post pictures of her increasingly emaciated frame on social media to see how many ‘likes’ she got

‘I’d tell my mum I had a stomach ache or heat up my forehead with my hairdryer to fake a fever because I had these terrible feelings of dread about school.

‘Those feelings got so bad that, by the age of 14, I was regularly having panic attacks in lessons.

‘I would walk out and wander around the park or sneak back home. In the run-up to an attack, it felt as if hundreds of random worries were crowding in on my brain with the volume up high.

‘The noise inside my head would become so deafening that my body would go into a fight-or-flight mode. I was gripped by the sort of terror I would have felt if an axe murderer was pinning me to a wall. I just knew I had to get out, as if my life depended on it.’

After the episodes became a daily occurrence, she hid herself away in her bedroom. The only way she found to subdue her panic was with compulsive exercise. Then, to regain some feeling of control, she’d post pictures of her increasingly emaciated frame on social media to see how many ‘likes’ she got.

High Price

Anxiety disorders account for 30% of mental health problems seen by GPs. Research shows they cost £10 billion a year

The school called in her family for numerous meetings about her truancy, but her mother Laura admits she was at a loss to explain her daughter’s behaviour. With Rhiannon unable to express what was wrong, she put it down to teenage rebellion.

Laura, 50, said: ‘When I asked what the problem was, Rhiannon would reply: “I just don’t want to go.” And that was it.’

She was only diagnosed when her weight dropped to 6st and she was referred to an eating disorders unit by her GP.

But while Rhiannon, now 19, got help because her illness became physically obvious, most children suffering from anxiety stay invisible. Many keep their state of mind hidden because without any obvious explanation for their unhappiness, they blame themselves and feel unable to tell anyone.

Compounding the problem is the fact children from comfortable homes are seen as in less need of monitoring. And 30 years ago the idea that children from secure backgrounds were so stressed that they were suffering serious anxiety problems would have seemed ridiculous.

But the figures keep rising. According to a survey last month by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, 42 per cent say they have seen an increase in the number of pupils dealing with such difficulties over the past two years alone.

So what’s causing Generation Anxiety? Dr Levine blames it on society having far too high expectations for middle-class youngsters.

Another problem is the fraught atmosphere in schools, which feel under pressure to improve their league table rankings at the expense of children’s well-being.

Then there’s the constant beauty and popularity contest that is social media, which youngsters feel they have to take part in from an increasingly young age.

It is a ticking time-bomb. Anxious children are more likely to turn into depressed adults. Half of people with lifelong mental health problems experience their first symptoms by the age of 14. According to the World Health Organisation, anxiety and depression will be our number one health problem by 2030.

But while it’s essential that children’s ill-health is picked up early, schools say the constant pressure to improve standards means teachers are too overwhelmed to help. Indeed, half of head teachers say increasing workloads mean they have less time to spot pupils’ mental health issues.

When Melanie (pictured here in her early
school days) was nearly ten, her mother
Susan saw a documentary on an anxiety
disorder called selective mutism and
recognised all of her daughter’s symptoms.

And there is little assistance if they do. According to a survey by the Centre Forum Mental Health Commission, 54 per cent of teachers find their local mental health services are not good enough at supporting youngsters. The result is that children with anxiety are falling through the cracks.

Certainly that was the case for Melanie Winder, now 15. From the age of four, she only ever spoke at home, never at school, following a traumatic family break-up.

Her primary school teachers insisted that even though Mel would only communicate with them by writing on a white board, she was simply timid and it was just ‘a phase’.

When she was nearly ten, her mother Susan saw a documentary on an anxiety disorder called selective mutism and recognised all of her daughter’s symptoms. But by that time the condition was so entrenched that it persisted when Mel went to secondary school. She became so isolated from peers that she started refusing to go.

Her mother believes Mel’s problem was seen as an inconvenience by her school, rather than as a sign she needed support.

Susan, 42, a local government officer from Manchester, says: ‘As a parent you trust the professionals. After all, they are dealing with children with various issues day in and day out.

‘Mel had teachers tell to her “not to be stupid” about not speaking, as if it is something she does to get attention, which just made it worse. She’d love to talk, but says it feels as if the words are stuck in her throat.

‘All along, the school’s concerns seemed to be how Mel’s not turning up for classes was affecting their attendance records.’

Mel is managing to attend school part-time (mornings only as the stress of spending lunch on her own would be too much), but Susan believes she will never return full-time.

‘The school could have helped by making small adjustments to reduce her anxiety in the classroom, such as letting her email her teachers when she needed to communicate with them or explaining Mel’s condition to other pupils so they did not tease her,’ she says.

After refusing to go at all, Mel is now managing to attend school part-time (mornings only as the stress of spending lunch on her own would be too much), but mother Susan believes she will never return full-time

‘But that didn’t happen. The longer it’s left and allowed to get worse, the more entrenched the problem becomes.’

As well as teachers not spotting severe anxiety, schools themselves can be the cause of the problem. Growing pressure to get good Ofsted results and for children to perform well in exams has changed the atmosphere in classrooms.

New figures from ChildLine show the number of calls about exam stress has tripled over the past year, with 7,546 children seeking help.

Elizabeth Preston, 43, first spotted signs that her daughter was becoming increasingly anxious about school last year when she was in Year 5.

Now ten, Olivia felt no matter how hard she tried she could never please her teacher, who would write remarks such as ‘You have failed to impress me’ at the bottom of her work.

It got so bad that she once vomited in class. That incident, on top of the pressure to succeed Olivia was already feeling, marked the start of a full-blown psychological phobia of going to school.

Elizabeth, who works in personnel, says: ‘In the mornings, I would have to coax her to get dressed to go to school. She would cry that she really wanted to go, but her body would not let her.’

The school was anything but understanding. Elizabeth, who lives near York, received a letter instigated by the school’s educational welfare officer warning she faced a fine of £2,500 or a three-month prison term because Olivia had missed 17 school sessions.

‘Considering that we’d met the welfare officer two days earlier to talk through why this was happening, I felt betrayed,’ says Elizabeth.

‘Olivia wanted to go to school, but physically couldn’t. Yet I was being treated like I couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed.

‘I tried to keep it from my daughter so she wouldn’t worry, but the school told her, despite me asking them not to. That was the day she hit rock bottom and cried for hours.

‘It’s only when I was diagnosed that I understood what I was going through,' says Rhiannon, who will soon start training to be a child protection officer. 'I thought I was the only one. I now realise I am far from alone’

‘From this point she became frightened of the school because they were threatening to take away her mother, her one bit of security in all this.’

Elizabeth only managed to escape prosecution because she was able to prove her daughter was not medically able to attend.

Olivia, now 15, has been home-schooled since.

‘If a child broke a leg in primary school, teachers would do all they could to address it so it would not get more serious,’ she says.

‘Yet no one was willing to help because Olivia wasn’t physically injured and she didn’t fit into any category, such as ADHD.

‘She was merely petrified of school. But that wasn’t good enough. Instead it seemed like the school’s only response was to make her more scared.’

Anxiety disorders often start with seemingly small issues such as problems sleeping and panicking about minor set-backs. But they can snowball, turning into more serious issues such as depression if not tackled in the early stages.

But by helping youngsters to recognise and silence these self-critical voices, which can start plaguing them as young as seven, and teaching them techniques such as meditation, can address such issues before they become intractable. With a price tag of up to £60,000 a year for services to support a teen with serious mental health problems, surely it’s an issue we cannot ignore.

Rhiannon Quinche — taking a year off before starting police training as a child protection officer — certainly believes so.

‘It’s hard to ask for help when it seems as if you don’t have a good reason for there to be anything wrong with you,’ she says. ‘It’s only when I was diagnosed that I understood what I was going through. Until then, I thought I was the only one. I now realise I am far from alone.’

It may be true that there’s been an inexorable rise in the numbers of youngsters with anxiety disorders. But if schools and parents play a part in spotting the signs early, that doesn’t have to continue.

Some names have been changed.


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