One in five kids suffers anxiety

News  Canberra Times (Canberra, Australian Capital Territory). Friday, 14 June 2002.


Circumcision traumatizes boys

BRISBANE: One in five Australian children suffers from serious anxiety and risk turning into depressed, suicidal teenagers, a conference heard yesterday.

In a keynote address to an international child and adolescent mental health conference in Brisbane, Professor Paula Barrett, of Queensland's Griffith University, said the figures represented a world-wide trend in childhood anxiety.

We know from studies both in Australia, the US and a variety of countries in Europe that approximately one in every five children will experience a significant degree of impediment as a result of anxiety, she said.

Childhood anxiety was a major psychological risk factor for depression and could lead to suicide - particularly in young males - without early intervention.

Professor Barrett said schools should consider introducing anti-anxiety lessons as part of the curriculum to help turn the tide. Early intervention or prevention of anxiety may be critical in the prevention of depression and suicide, and the school setting is obviously the best window of opportunity, she said.

Professor Barrett said family factors during early childhood and experiences in late primary school, such as bullying and lack of acceptance by peers, played a key role in childhood anxiety and depression.

Some children also became particularly distressed by traumatic events that didn't touch them directly, such as reporting of the September 11 terrorist attacks, or the death of a classmate.

She said there was evidence that some children were born more prone to stress and anxiety than others.

She said if five children - as young as six months old - are taken into a room and the light is switched off, or a strange person enters the room, on average one will experience longer and more severe symptoms of stress such as increased heart rate, sweating and crying.

However, this sensitivity could be mitigated by a stable, nurturing relationship with family and peers.

Being born sensitive seems to be a risk factor, but if you've got a supportive family and a supportive peer network, these are protective factors that help the child cope quite well with life, she said.

Professor Barrett said sleep deprivation and over-stimulation could increase a child's sensitivity to stress.

Beginning school too early, when a child was not socially or emotionally ready, could also cause anxiety problems, she said.

The professor had devised a program for teaching primary and high school children how to become emotionally articulate in 1999.

The program has gained international recognition and been successfully introduced into some Queensland schools.

Evidence is mounting that circumcision of baby boys can cause life-long psychological distress, according to a Queensland academic.

 External link Professor Gregory Boyle, of  External link Bond University, said circumcised boys could suffer long-term symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

Professor Boyle reviewed recent studies and concluded that many children who were circumcised for non-medical reasons were traumatised by the experience. PTSD-like symptoms may even persist well into adult years, he told the conference.

Young people who play sport are more likely to practise safe sex than those who go to church, according to new research.

The research into the sexual well-being of young Australians also found that people in the 17-19 age bracket who were sexually active were likely to be better adjusted than their virginal peers. The study, presented at the conference, said virgins had the lowest sense of sexual well-being - even below sexually active people who had experienced sexual harassment.

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