Nurse’s Quarters: Teen Anxiety
Emma Pack, Staff Writer
According to Evolve Treatment, 38% of female teens have an anxiety disorders and 26.1% of male teens have anxiety disorders. This is a serious topic and so when the opportunity arose we had to ask our very own school nurse, Nurse Brown, to unpack the issue of anxiety and its effects on teens.
Interview with Aime Brown
Q: What is your opinion on teen mental health?
A: I’m seeing new patterns that I didn’t face as a teen, and that has to do with social media. When somebody starts a rumor about you, when I was growing up, maybe your class might know. But now they can put it on Instagram and hundreds of people see this rumor.
It’s blown up the anxieties, insecurities, and fears to a new level; and I’m seeing more and more kids needing to be on mental health medications. We know that teens’ mental health is declining. We can see that statistically. I’m curious as to whether technology is really helpful for you guys or not.
Nurse Aime Brown poses in her Nursing Quarters
Q: Parents are often recommended not to let teens use social media or technology in general. Do you recommend this because you see how it is affecting teens?
A: It almost makes it more appealing to teenagers. They’ve done funny studies, like if you put a sign on a door that says “Do Not Enter,” it’s gonna make people more interested in that door and they are more likely to have noticed it than if you just did nothing. I think our energy would be better spent really convincing teens about the dangers of technology, talking about wise choices and unwise choices, and keeping the discussion open so that teens can police themselves. That’s more important than hard, fast rules during the teen years.
Q: What do you think are some hidden symptoms of anxiety that teens might not notice are actually anxiety?
A: The number one thing that I see is G.I. issues. Often this is caused by stress or anxiety. I think kids start by thinking they simply have diarrhea, or stomach cramps, or they feel nauseous. Students don’t necessarily attribute it to anxiety initially. The other thing I see related to stress and anxiety is sleep patterns, either not being able to sleep at night or wanting to sleep all the time. We move at such a crazy pace, people think, “I just have too much to do, I just can’t get to sleep.” Or, “I’m just really tired because I’m so busy.” When I step back and look at the big picture, I think something is really bothering them and they’re not taking the time to deal with and examine what’s bothering them. That’s why they want to sleep and stay in bed all the time. Or, when they do lay down their mind is racing and they can’t go to sleep. Those are the biggest issues that I see here.
Q: How do you differentiate between an anxiety attack and an asthma attack?
A: It’s hard to really differentiate between someone who is truly having a serious asthma attack and an anxiety attack. If they’re feeling lightheaded and they’re breathing a lot, one of the things that I like to ask is “Do you feel tingly? Are you feeling a tingly sensation in your fingers and toes?” That doesn’t happen very often with asthma attacks. What happens with an anxiety attack is you’re breathing out really fast, so you’re pushing off way too much CO2 and taking in way too much oxygen. The acid-base balance in your body is off. In an asthma attack, you’re not getting enough oxygen.
Q: What difference do you see between teen and adult anxiety?
A: A lot of teenagers don’t realize that what they are experiencing is anxiety [like] adults who maybe have been experiencing it for years. Adults [are] more likely to attribute it and get treatment for it. However, adults can sometimes be more jaded if they’ve been struggling for anxiety with a long time. When I was a floor nurse, they’ve had the tendency to give up hope and make really poor life choices… and it’s a lot more difficult to unravel than teens who are at the beginning of the battle. In some ways, the teens don’t have as much knowledge about what’s going on, but it’s more hopeful.
Q: What advice do you have to parents with a teen who has anxiety?
A: Parents need to educate themselves on effective tools and then learn their child and learn what works well for them. Good, solid Christian counselors can be effective, but if they don’t want to do that, I would encourage them to seek out someone that they trust that is a believer that has struggled with that and listen to them. Listen to them so they can see from that person’s perspective what it’s like to experience anxiety, and then hear things that have worked for them. In a nutshell, what I’d say to parents is be quick to listen and slow to speak. Listen. Listen to your teen, listen to professionals, listen to people who have struggled with it, and then begin to speak into it.
Nurse Aime Brown bandaging a student's leg
Q: How often do students come to you for anxiety during the day?
A: One to five students a day during the school year.
Q: What time do the most students come in?
A: I see the most amount right before lunch. I think that there’s probably a lot of anxiety associated with friendship groups. Who am I going to sit with? This person is mad at me. We were texting last night, and they said something that hurt my feelings, and now I’ve got to go sit with them or deal with it. Or these people were saying this about me, and I saw that. When you’re in class, I don't think it’s nearly as terrifying. That being true, I have some kids that simply have learning disabilities or something like that and just being in class is what triggers it. That test that they’ve got to take, or I feel like my parents are going to be upset with me, or I realize I forgot to turn that paper in. That can do it too. But the general population, I would say, it centers around two areas. Lunch and P.E. Those are more social settings, and I think P.E. is a little more athletic and not all of us are athletic.
Q: How do you inform parents that their teen has anxiety if they don’t know?
A: Usually, I try to talk to the student first. And then, if I can, I let the student talk to the parent. But I also call. I basically start with the data. “I had your child in here today, and they felt like they had a stomach ache, and I want them to see the reason why. It could be that they’ve got a stomach bug, but based on XYZ and this discussion that I had, I actually think that they’re having some anxiety . . . And I think it might be nice if this afternoon when they go home, you talked to them about that and try to figure out what it is, and if there’s something the school could do to help the child with that, will you let us know?” That’s usually the conversation I will have with the parents. Start talking to your kid about this, and if there’s something we can do to help alleviate the anxiety, I’ll be happy to talk. I will also put them in touch with our guidance department then.