Johns Hopkins Children's Centre researchers have found that a family-based program can reduce symptoms and the risk of developing an anxiety disorder among children.
The study suggests that as few as eight weekly family sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy would go a long way to prevent or minimize the psychological damage of childhood anxiety.
"If psychiatrists or family doctors diagnose anxiety in adult patients, it's now clearly a good idea that they ask about the patients' children and, if appropriate, refer them for evaluation," said senior investigator Golda Ginsburg, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Hopkins Children's and associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
"Right now, most doctors don't think about this, let alone broach the subject," Ginsburg added.
Ginsburg said data show that the children of parents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are up to seven times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder themselves, and up to 65 percent of children living with an anxious parent meet criteria for an anxiety disorder.
Delay in diagnosis and treatment can lead to depression, substance abuse and poor academic performance throughout childhood and well into adulthood.
During the study, the researchers looked at 40 children between 7 and 12 not diagnosed with anxiety themselves but who had one or both parents diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Half of the children and their families were enrolled in an eight-week cognitive behavioral therapy, while the other half were put on a waiting list and received no therapy at the time of the study, but were offered therapy a year later.
The study showed that within a year, 30 percent of the children in the no-intervention group had developed an anxiety disorder, compared to none of the children who participated in the family-based therapy.
The study appears in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.