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Depression and Anxiety - Information for Parents

December 26, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

On December 19, the lead article in the Falmouth Enterprise, Depression And Anxiety On The Rise In Students, highlighted the concern about the growing issue in Falmouth schools. Cheryl A. Boli, the school nurse at Morse Pond School and Chair of the Falmouth Public Schools Wellness Committee, noted that “more students are coming to her office with complaints that are emotionally rooted.”


Depression is a major issue for teens and preteens nationally and locally. According to the National Institute of Mental Health more than 10 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18 with girls being more likely than boys to experience depression.  And, the World Health Organization notes that depression is the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15 to 44.

Not unlike other areas in the country, Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, has a significant population of teens and young adults who suffer from depression. And, Barnstable County has the second highest rate of suicide in the state among young people.

The Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey

This anonymous written self report survey of youth in public high schools in the state, indicated that in 2011 (the last year for which information is available):

  • 13% of students seriously considered suicide during the past year, 12% made a suicide plan and 7% made an attempt
  • 25% of high school students reported feeling so sad or depressed daily for at least two weeks during the previous year that they discontinued usual activities. A larger percentage of females (32%) than males (19%) reported feeling this way.

Recognizing Depression

Many teens may periodically be sullen or moody, but the following symptoms, especially if they last for more than two weeks, may indicate that your child is depressed:

  • a feeling of being down in the dumps or really sad for no reason
  • a lack of energy, feeling unable to do the simplest task
  • an inability to enjoy the things that used to bring pleasure
  • a lack of desire to be with friends or family members
  • feelings of irritability, anger, or anxiety
  • an inability to concentrate that may interfere with school
  • difficulty coping with problems and daily activities
  • a marked weight gain or loss (or failure to gain weight as expected), and too little or too much interest in eating
  • a significant change in sleep habits, such as trouble falling asleep or getting up
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • aches and pains even though nothing is physically wrong
  • threats of self-harm or harm to others
  • increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • a lack of caring about what happens in the future
  • frequent thoughts about death or suicide


According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 8 percent of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6. Many children with anxiety also have symptoms of depression.

Anxiety can be a normal reaction to stress. It can help your child deal with a tense situation, study harder for an exam, or keep focused on an important game or school presentation. Managing stress and dealing with anxiety can help your child handle challenging situations as they grow.

However, if symptoms of anxiety become excessive, they can affect your child's day-to-day functioning, especially concentrating in school, sleeping, eating, and social interactions.

Recognizing Anxiety

Some signs that your child may be overly anxious about something may include:

  • excessive worry most days of the week, lasting for weeks
  • trouble getting to sleep and/or staying asleep sleeping at night
  • restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • becoming clingy, impulsive, or distracted
  • nervous movements, such as temporary twitches
  • physical symptoms, such as sweaty hands, accelerated heart rate, dizziness,  and rapid breathing 
  • physical complaints such as nausea, headaches, stomach aches, and chest pain

Types of Anxiety

There are several types of anxiety disorders that can affect children; some examples include:

Generalized anxiety disorder: Symptoms include severe and uncontrollable worry about multiple issues, such as being on time, doing well on tests, or keeping friendships.

Social anxiety disorder: Symptoms include acting shy and, in severe cases, refusing to speak to people they do not know; being very worried about social situations or overly worried about the views of other people, especially peers.

Panic disorder: Sudden onset of symptoms including racing heart, sweating, shaking, trouble breathing, and the feeling that something terrible is going to happen.

Getting Help

If you are concerned that your child is suffering from depression and/or an anxiety disorder your first step should be to speak with your child’s pediatrician or family physician. Discussing your concerns with a school guidance counselor or school nurse may also be helpful and give you a better understanding of how your child is handling school situations. Your child’s pediatrician or school personnel may refer your child for counseling.

The Falmouth Public Schools (especially Nancy Taylor, who oversees the school system’s health, guidance, and special education departments) is to be commended for recognizing the relationship between student’s behavioral and mental health issues and the learning process. In the recent Enterprise story, Ms. Taylor said “it is incumbent upon the school district to concern itself with the emotional health of its students.” To address the issue, the schools have brought in programs for teachers and parents, and has partnered with Gosnold on Cape Cod to place counselors in several Falmouth schools. Early intervention with kids who are at risk should help decrease some of the untoward consequences of depression and anxiety, such as learning problems, self injury, suicide, and substance abuse. 

Depression and Anxiety Resources

Understanding Depression from KidsHealth.org. An excellent article that gives a clear explanation of depression and how to help your teen. The site also provides access to depression information for school aged children and teens in language appropriate to their age. 

Anxiety Disorders from KidsHealth.org. An in-depth article that gives a clear explanation of anxiety and how to help your child. The site also provides access to anxiety-related information. 

Teen Mental Health from MedlinePlus.gov. Provides access to a wealth of information about adolescent mental health issues.

Child Mental Health from MedlinePlus.gov. Provides access to a wealth of information about children’s mental health issues. 

Teen Depression from the Mayo Clinic. An in-depth look at adolescent depression from Mayo Clinic mental health experts. 

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