Boston Medical Center will receive a whopping $13.5 million to study treatment for childhood anxiety — an issue growing in prevalence that can have lifelong consequences.
“If it goes untreated, it can result in school difficulty, school failure, substance use and even suicide attempts,” said Dr. Lisa Fortuna, medical director for child and adolescent psychiatry services at BMC and the study’s principal investigator. “If children can’t receive treatment, it’s definitely going to get worse.”
Boston will be one of four research sites studying a group of more than 1,800 children ages 3-17 with mild to moderate anxiety.
Each child will be randomly assigned to receive 12 weeks of either online or in-person therapy and two subsequent years of monitoring.
The study will test whether receiving online counseling is as effective as face-to-face treatment.
If online therapy proves as effective, it could be a boon for mental health care access, Fortuna said.
“Help would be more accessible,” Fortuna said. “If patients come in and are screened as having anxiety disorders, then families could be provided with options.”
Researchers will use cognitive behavioral therapy — or CBT — to treat children. The approach involves patients confronting sources of anxiety to overcome their fears.
Anxiety disorders include: panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and separation anxiety disorder.
Most children with anxiety do not receive treatment for several reasons, including stigma, a shortage of therapists and issues getting to appointments.
It is estimated that as much as 32 percent of adolescents suffer from anxiety, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.