“Health care needs to be better at detecting anxiety among young people”

2 December 2019

SALVE research project follows young people in Västmanland

SALVE research project follows young people in Västmanland

Susanne Olofsdotter, psychologist and researcher at Uppsala University’s Centre for Clinical Research in Västerås, is looking for better tools for detecting and treating anxiety in children and young people.

How prevalent are anxiety problems during adolescence?
“It is the most common psychological problem among teenagers. More than 30 per cent are at a level requiring professional support. Unfortunately, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (BUP) discovers relatively few of those affected. This means that a majority of those who need treatment do not receive it, which can have serious consequences over the long term.”

What are the risks if anxiety remains untreated?
“It can cause great suffering as early as childhood and adolescence. Through a reluctance to be a centre of attention, for example, which may mean that young people do not perform at their best in school or may be perceived as reserved when interacting with other children. Anxiety often leads to both mental and physical ill health in the form of depression and pain. In many cases, the symptoms and associated disabilities escalate over the years.”

How can health care do a better job of detecting anxiety among young people?
“Above all, BUP needs access to new and better investigative methods. Many people suffering from anxiety turn to psychiatry for other problems, and unfortunately current assessment tools are often too narrowly designed to identify more than the exact condition being investigated. A study at BUP Västmanland showed that only two out of ten cases of anxiety were detected among patients seeking care for another cause, but no less than nine cases out of ten were identified when they filled out a questionnaire focusing on anxiety in particular.”

What can those of us close to young people do?
“We can become better at paying attention to the signals we observe, even though many young people try to hide their problems. Parents or teachers also have difficulty judging when it is time to seek help. We can hope that anxiety and shyness are personality aspects that diminish over the years, but daring to breach the subject and talk about it is extremely important.”

Which knowledge gaps about anxiety do we most need to fill?
“At the Centre for Clinical Research in Västerås, we have been following a number of young people in Västmanland since 2009. Some of them have been in contact with BUP while growing up, and others have not. Now they are approaching early adulthood, which allows us to map the extent to which anxiety continues as people grow older and the results achieved by different treatments. These are important aspects that we have not been studied previously in Sweden.”

Facts

The Centre for Clinical Research in Västerås is a collaboration between Uppsala University and Region Västmanland.

The collaboration involves research, doctoral education and undergraduate training of doctors, which strengthens research in Västmanland and broadens Uppsala University’s clinical base.