Panic Disorder in Adolescence

Teens and Anxiety

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Panic disorder can be experienced during adolescence.. Photo © Microsoft

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that typically onsets in late adolescence or early adulthood. Although panic disorder often begins between the ages of 15 and 35, it's still possible to develop this condition in childhood or early adolescence.

Panic Disorder and Teens

The symptoms of panic disorder in teenagers are very similar to the experiences of adult sufferers. The main symptom of panic disorder is the experience of recurrent panic attacks.

These attacks often occur unexpectedly and are marked by extreme fear, nervousness, and apprehension.

Panic attacks are usually felt through a mix of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. These attacks typically occur out-of-the-blue and are accompanied by four or more of the following symptoms:

Panic attacks can vary in terms of symptoms, intensity, and duration. Most last for only a brief period of time, reaching a peak within 10 minutes. But panic attacks can continue to affect a teenager long after it has ended, causing heightened nervousness and anxiety hours after the attack has subsided.

Experiencing a panic attack can be a frightening experience for a teenager. Similar to adults with panic disorder, teens that experience panic attacks are susceptible to developing avoidance behaviors. When this occurs, the teen begins to stay away from situations, places, and events that he believes may trigger a panic attack.

He may, for example, start to avoid crowds—such as at school assemblies or the cafeteria. He may also become fearful in cars or other forms of transportation, and feel afraid to leave places deemed safe, such as the home.

Repeatedly avoiding situations that may trigger panic attacks is a condition known as agoraphobia. Although more likely to occur in adulthood, agoraphobia can develop during adolescence. About one-third of those with panic disorder will also experience agoraphobia. This condition can potentially become debilitating, causing a teen to be homebound with agoraphobia.

Treatment Options

If left untreated, panic disorder can negatively affect a teenager’s life and potentially lead to problems with school, relationships, and self-esteem. Only a doctor or qualified professional can diagnose a teen with panic disorder. A doctor can also rule out possible medical causes for the panic attacks and determine if any co-occurring conditions exist, such as depression.

Fortunately, safe and effective treatment options are available to help teens with panic disorder.

Some of the most common treatment options include psychotherapy, medications, and self-help strategies. Treatment outcomes are often best when utilizing a combination of these options and following through with treatment recommendations.

Through psychotherapy, a teen can meet with a professional who treats panic disorder to work through deep emotions and develop coping strategies. Different types of psychotherapy may be available—the most common being cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is centered on helping the teen develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Family psychotherapy may be necessary to assist in building supportive relationships between the teen and the rest of the family. Group therapy may also be available, in which the teen will be able to work through issues alongside peers who are also struggling with similar problems.

Panic disorder can be experienced on and off throughout one’s lifespan. For instance, a teenager may have frequent and unexpected panic attacks for several months, followed by many years in which they don't suffer from any symptoms. Regardless of whether panic disorder is experienced for a short period of time or throughout one’s life, it doesn't have to be unmanageable. The sooner a teenager gets the help he/she needs, the quicker they will be on the road to recovery.

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