Anxiety disorder runs in families. Parents with anxiety are more likely to have children with anxiety. Researchers at University of Connecticut Health (UConn) investigated whether they could use this information to prevent anxiety in children. The research team tested out a family-based intervention for anxiety. They found that family therapy can limit the prevalence of anxiety in children of parents with anxiety. The results suggest that it is possible to limit children’s susceptibility to anxiety through therapy and an adjustment in parenting styles.
The study followed 136 families. In each family, at least one parent was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and at least one child, aged 6 to 13, had not been diagnosed with anxiety. Around half of the families received an intervention of eight weekly therapy sessions. In the first two sessions, the parents met with a therapist to discuss the impact of parents’ anxiety on children and the types of behaviors that can inadvertently increase children’s anxiety. In the subsequent sessions, the whole family met to discuss how to recognize and cope with anxiety. The other half of the families received a 30-page handout that described anxiety disorders. The handout did not explain strategies for reducing anxiety.
One year after the intervention, the researchers checked in with the families to find out how many of the children had been diagnosed with anxiety. Among the families that received the handout, 31 percent of the children were diagnosed with anxiety. In contrast, only five percent children whose families attended the therapy sessions were diagnosed with anxiety.
The findings emphasize that parenting behaviors, like modeling anxiety, can affect children’s anxiety.
Study leader Golda Ginsburg, professor of psychiatry at UConn, says that the findings indicate the need for a proactive mental health treatments. “In the medical system there are other prevention models, like dental care, where we go every six months for a cleaning. I think adopting that kind of model—a mental health checkup, a prevention model for folks who are at risk—is I think where we need to go next.”
This research is published in the Journal of Psychiatry.
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