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Anxiety in Teenagers with Disability or Chronic Conditions

Among teenagers, anxiety is very common, especially when they face unfamiliar, dangerous, or stressful situations. Anxiety is a normal reaction to challenging situations. Even for most teenagers, anxiety does not last and goes away on its own. For some teenagers, it does not go away or is so intense that it stops them from doing everyday things.

Teenagers with disability or chronic health conditions are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety, especially if the disability or condition is unpredictable or significantly affects their daily lives.

Teenagers with disability or long-term health conditions might feel anxious or worry about:

  • having medical procedures like blood tests
  • missing out on school, friendships or romantic relationships
  • being judged because of their disabilities or conditions
  • not achieving what they want in life
  • being burdens on their families
  • getting sicker, relapsing or dying.

Teenagers with disability or chronic conditions show the same signs and symptoms of anxiety as other teenagers. But when children have disability or chronic conditions, it might sometimes be hard to distinguish the physical signs of anxiety, like sleep problems, from the physical symptoms of their conditions.

If your child has a disability or chronic condition, you can also look out for other signs of anxiety. These might include:

  • avoiding social events
  • worrying excessively about appearance
  • refusing to have procedures or go to hospital
  • being concerned about transferring to the adult health care system.

There are many practical ways to support your teenage child with disability or a chronic condition through anxiety. Many of these are the same things you would do for any child with anxiety or an anxiety disorder. They include acknowledging your child’s fear, gently encouraging your child to do things he feels anxious about, and listening actively when your child wants to talk about his feelings.

There are some extra things you can do to help your child with disability or a chronic condition:

  • Make sure your child has reliable and developmentally appropriate information about his health condition.
  • Talk regularly with your child about his condition and answer questions.
  • Give your child choices. This can help your child feel a sense of control.
  • Help your child learn to manage his own health care.
  • Try to make home treatments less stressful.
  • Talk with your child about how he could explain his condition to new people.
  • Acknowledge your child’s fears and assure him that many teenagers feel anxious from time to time.
  • Help your child find a peer network for teenagers with disability or chronic conditions.
  • Encourage your child to use the education support that some children’s hospitals provide.
  • Help your child develop a plan to keep up with schoolwork and friends when he is away for treatments.
  • Spend time with your child doing activities he enjoys.

If you think your child needs help to deal with anxiety, get professional support as early as possible. Your doctor or the professionals working with your child can refer you to a psychologist.