Like many active 10-year-olds, Ava* is involved in competitive cheerleading, enjoys playing the flute in her school’s band and loves spending time with her group of a few close-knit friends. But daily life is a struggle for this fifth grader, who is haunted by debilitating worries about her personal safety, her health and being alone.
“She’s always had issues with being alone in the house,” her mom says. “If I’m doing laundry, she’s in the laundry room with me. She still sleeps in our bed at night. I make her go to bed in her bed every night, and I sit in her room until she falls asleep. But, by about 1 a.m., she comes and gets in our bed.”
Ever since Ava broke her arm last year during a cheer practice, her anxiety has steadily worsened.
“She thinks she’s having heart attacks, and she’ll go to the school nurse saying she can’t breathe and her face is numb,” her mom says. “Before that, she’d never been to the school nurse in the six years she’s been in elementary school.”
Ava isn’t alone. Mental health experts say that anxiety is now the number one most common mental health challenge among children. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 31 percent of adolescents, ages 13 to 18, suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind, with girls at a slightly higher risk.
*Name has been changed.