a teen looking anxiousOne in five children in the US is affected by anxiety. Making a full recovery from anxiety is not easy, report researchers from a collaboration between Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and five other institutions. In what is the first long-term analysis of young people treated for anxiety, the researchers found that only half completely recuperated from anxiety after six years. The research underscores the need for long-term psychiatric care among patients with anxiety, especially since anxiety can lead to depression, substance abuse, and poor academic performance.

The researchers worked with 288 patients aged 11 to 26 who had been diagnosed with anxiety. The patients were treated for three months with medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two. They received a follow-up assessment an average of six years later.

Only 47% of the patients were anxiety-free six years after their initial treatment, while nearly 70% required intermittent mental health therapy in the intervening years. Although the type of treatment was not predictive of a relapse, sex was; girls were nearly twice as likely as boys to have an anxiety relapse. Families that spent more time together, demonstrated trust, and that had clear rules had children who were less at risk for a relapse.

This research indicates that following up with anxiety patients is critical to ensure their continued mental health. Anxiety is a chronic disorder and the findings highlight the need for improved long-term management of the condition.

“Our findings are encouraging in that nearly half of these children achieved significant improvement and were disease-free an average of six years after treatment, but at the same time we ought to look at the other half who didn’t fare so well and figure out how we can do better,” said lead investigator Golda Ginsburg, Ph.D., psychologist at John Hopkins Children’s Center and professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This federally-funded research is published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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