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Anxiety Disorder on the Rise in Schools

Dean Traylor splits his time being a special education teacher and a freelance writer.

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Back to School, Back to Fear

Students didn't have an easy return to school. After spending a year and a half away from in-person teaching, they returned to a place drastically changed. They had to contend with masks, social distancing, and the potential exposure to the COVID virus.

With testing booths on campus, routine checks at the entrance, and masks and sanitizers in each room, school was looking like a safe place. However, not all students felt safe, thus they stopped attending or never showed up.

It should come as no surprise that a secondary epidemic was happening while the COVID pandemic raged. Anxiety gripped many students in its clutches. For some, that grip was so crippling that they feared to attend school.

The Emergence of a Mental Disorder

Often overlooked for years, anxiety disorder is now becoming a common condition among students, especially those within a special education program. The pandemic helped to elevate this and has left school districts and sites scrambling for ways to accommodate students afflicted with this condition.

In addition, this condition has led to students and parents to:

  • Search for alternative instructions and programs such as home hospital instructions, independent studies, or home schooling;
  • Seek counseling at or off campus; or
  • Stay home and not attempt to attend class.

Unfortunately, the latter has been taking precedence, lately. Many students choose to stay home, despite numerous attempts by district officials to reach out to them. Not even the possibility of failing all their courses and being held back a year has persuaded them to return.

What is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is an umbrella name for several mental or social/emotional disorders. Several websites from esteemed organizations list six different forms. Other sites list four to five. One prominent site classified 10 distinctive types. A closer look, however, reveals that some sites either combined or divided these types into distinctive ones. Thus, going with the most common list of six, those conditions are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder;
  • Social Anxiety;
  • Phobias;
  • Panic Disorders;
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); and
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

They range from being minor to having a major impact on the affected individual. In all cases, the presence of the feeling of anxiety and panic attacks unifies these types.

...various forms of anxiety disorder are the most common form of mental health concerns in the United States.

Anxiety disorder can affect all ages, socio-economic group, or ethnicities. In other words, It doesn’t discriminate. Statistics illustrate this.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), various forms of anxiety disorder are the most common form of mental health concerns in the United States.

The statistics, according to NAMI, are staggering:

  • Over 40 million adults (19.1%) were diagnosed with it;
  • About 7% of children between the age of 3 and 17 have experienced one form of the condition per year.
  • Most symptoms appear before the age of 21.

To note, the data depicted was from the year prior to the COVID pandemic.

Symptoms

Symptoms may vary among individuals. In addition, the various types of anxiety disorders may have their own unique symptoms. Still, there is an exhaustive list that can be found within all forms.

Anxiety disorders, in general, have several symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic website, the are:

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  • Having nervous, restless or tense feelings;
  • The presence of feeling a sense of danger, panic or doom;
  • Increased heart rate;
  • Hyperventilation;
  • Sweating;
  • Episodic trembling;
  • Fatigue;
  • Sleeping problems (insomnia);
  • Troubles with concentration;
  • Constant worries; and
  • Avoidance of things that may trigger anxiety.
anxiety-disorder-on-the-rise-in-schools

The site also goes into details for three symptoms (which they list as types of anxiety disorders) that are very revealing and may be endemic among school aged children.

They are:

  • Selective mutism -- children may fail to speak in certain situations. Often they may remain extremely anxious to speak up at school even when called upon by a teacher to talk or give an oral answer to a problem.
  • Separation anxiety disorder -- anxiety present during a child’s developmental level that is caused by separation from parents or guardians.
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) -- in which there are “high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance” of particular social situations. This is due to several reasons such as feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and the fear of being judged negatively by others. This includes school functions and classrooms.

Causes

Often, when talking about mental disorders, the causes are usually inconclusive. In truth, researchers are not sure if it’s due to genetics or environmental factors (or possibly both).

There are other factors to consider such as psychological and/or developmental causes. Also, the possibility that such a disability may run in families. Even side effects from drugs (both medical and recreational) and trauma from an event have been considered, too.

Recently, there appears to be a correlation between the pandemic and anxiety disorder diagnosis. However, as the old saying goes, correlation is not causation. It can only lead to a clue as to why this condition is on the rise at this point.

In addition to all that, it's uncertain if it's a lifetime diagnosis. Treatment through therapy appears to be best tool (some of which can be done in a school setting).

Anxiety Disorder and Special Education

The condition has a degree of severity. Most notably, it can impact the way a student learns.

Symptoms that may appear among students with anxiety disorder are:

  • Chronic absences;
  • Frequent tardiness
  • Avoiding a class; and
  • numerous trips to the bathroom during class hours.

There is no guarantee that the student has it. Even if these are symptoms of anxiety disorders, they don’t necessarily mean that the student automatically qualifies for special education. A student to qualify for special education service has something that affects one’s ability to learn.

Minor anxiety disorders may need a Section 504. Often, the student doesn’t qualify for special education service, but this civil rights law is meant to provide reasonable accommodations within a classroom setting as well as to protect their rights. Those with the condition that are eligible for special education (according to the special education law Individual with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA) will have their learning process affected.

For those that qualify for special education services, two areas will be needed to help the students.

Often, students with such conditions will need special education services such as those provided in an individualized education plan (IEP). In addition, they will be designated under the disability called emotional disturbance (ED).

Two areas will be needed to help the students. They include district in-service (DIS) counseling; social skills training/instruction; and behavioral services for students to learn how to cope with their conditions.

Accommodations are recommended. But as mentioned on the website, mcandrewslaw.com, the type of accommodation shouldn’t be used if it “ possibly reinforces social isolation.” They suggest it should:

  • Allow students during oral presentation to present to the teacher instead of the class;
  • Permit non-group participation in class;
  • Give them a chance to leave class early;
  • Allow them to arrive late without repercussions;
  • Eat lunch away from the cafeteria or crowded areas; and
  • Provide alternatives for physical education requirements outside a school setting.

Alternative Programs

A lingering problem, especially during the pandemic, is that students with anxiety disorder are not showing up for class. As a result, they are missing out on education and are in danger of falling behind.

Lately, through the use of technology, many school districts have retained their distance learning platform for those who are unable to attend in-person classes. Often this is known as the hybrid system and they can differ from district to district.

In addition, many school districts have implemented an independent studies system in which students work on their own, but keep in touch with a teacher, via the Internet.

Finally there’s the offering of home hospital instructions on a temporary basis. This particular program is offered to students who may have a disability or social situation that may prevent them from attending school on a temporary basis. This program is offered nationwide at most school districts (each one have their own rules and regulations for it). Also, many students with mental disabilities such as anxiety disorder have been requesting and using this.

Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Cripple Learning

The various forms of anxiety disorder can make any social setting a horrible experience for those inflicted with it. But, students with this have options. Laws and school programs can be utilized.

In addition, the programs offered by the school districts, in particular special education, can offer these students a chance to learn ways to manage their conditions. This condition doesn't have to be so crippling.

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Work Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dean Traylor

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