Children and adolescents referred for treatment of anxiety disorders: differences in clinical characteristics

J Affect Disord. 2014;167(100):326-32. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.06.028. Epub 2014 Jun 25.


Background: Reports of the clinical characteristics of children and adolescents with anxiety disorders are typically based on community populations or from clinical samples with exclusion criterion applied. Little is known about the clinical characteristics of children and adolescents routinely referred for treatment for anxiety disorders. Furthermore, children and adolescents are typically treated as one homogeneous group although they may differ in ways that are clinically meaningful.

Methods: A consecutive series of children (n=100, aged 6-12 years) and adolescents (n=100, aged 13-18 years), referred to a routine clinical service, were assessed for anxiety and comorbid disorders, school refusal and parental symptoms of psychopathology.

Results: Children with a primary anxiety disorder were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with separation anxiety disorder than adolescents. Adolescents with a primary anxiety disorder had significantly higher self and clinician rated anxiety symptoms and had more frequent primary diagnoses of social anxiety disorder, diagnoses and symptoms of mood disorders, and irregular school attendance.

Limitations: Childhood and adolescence were considered categorically as distinct, developmental periods; in reality changes would be unlikely to occur in such a discrete manner.

Conclusions: The finding that children and adolescents with anxiety disorders have distinct clinical characteristics has clear implications for treatment. Simply adapting treatments designed for children to make the materials more 'adolescent-friendly' is unlikely to sufficiently meet the needs of adolescents.

Keywords: Adolescence; Anxiety; Childhood; Comorbidities; Diagnoses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Phobic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy
  • Psychopathology
  • Referral and Consultation*