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Anxiety Returns for Most Young Patients

Update Date: Jan 29, 2014 04:42 PM EST

Less than 50 percent of children and young adults treated for anxiety get long-term relief from symptoms, according to a new study.

"Our findings are encouraging in that nearly half of these children achieved significant improvement and were disease-free an average of six years after treatment, but at the same time we ought to look at the other half who didn't fare so well and figure out how we can do better," lead investigator Golda Ginsburg, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a news release.

The long-term study involved 288 patients between the ages of 11 and 26. All patients, who were diagnosed with and treated for anxiety for three months, were followed for an average of six years.

Patients received medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy or a combination of the two. Researchers found no differences in relapse between the three treatments, suggesting that all therapies examined in the study are similarly effective.

The findings revealed that 47 percent of patients were free of any anxiety six years after the initial treatment. However, almost 70 percent needed some type of intermittent mental health therapy in the years following the original treatment.

Researchers said that these findings highlight the need of careful follow-up and rigorous monitoring of symptoms to spot early signs of anxiety and prevent the return of a full-blown disorder.

"Just because a child responds well to treatment early on, doesn't mean our work is done and we can lower our guard," Ginsburg said.

The study also found that family dynamics and gender were the best predictors of long-term anxiety risk. Children from stable families with clear rules and greater trust and who spent quality time together were less likely to relapse. Boys were half as likely to relapse compared to girls.

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

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