Doctors say anxiety and depression are a lot more common in kids, especially during pandemic

MADISON, Wis. — With all the changes to your family’s normal routine, doctors want to make sure parents are looking out for signs of anxiety and depression in kids.

SSM Health pediatrician Dr. Julie Waraksa said you can start to see signs that children have anxiety when they’re as young as 2 years old, while depression is a little harder to see in kids.

She said signs of anxiety include fear of separation from a parent and nervous tics. Tics are things kids don’t notice they’re doing, such as blinking a lot, clearing their throat, or moving their head or shoulders in a certain way. These tics can get worse over time until they’re almost constant.

“Often you’ll notice (signs of depression) when typical behaviors start changing. You know, the kids don’t want to play the same games that they used to. Or they don’t want to hang out with their friends. It’s the same thing in older kids, the same symptoms of not wanting to do things they used to like doing,” said Waraksa.

A change in appetite or sleep habits could also be signs of depression.

She said both anxiety and depression are becoming more common in kids.

“Whether it’s really severe that it’s affecting how they live or it’s something that’s always in the back of their mind, we see it really frequently. And since COVID started and people are feeling more isolated and kids are away from their friends and away from school and not able to do the things they typically do, it’s gotten worse,” said Waraksa.

She suggests getting out of the house with the family and getting kids to do more physical activities.

She said parents should talk to their children about how they’re feeling. If you notice something concerning, ask if there’s something you can do to help.

If parents are concerned that their child is showing signs of anxiety or depression, they should speak with their pediatrician.

She said often times parents worry a doctor will put their child on medication immediately, but that’s not always the case. A doctor will help connect your child to a counselor who can try to figure out what’s causing these feelings. Right now, she said it could be the stresses of COVID or the racial tension we’re seeing as a society.