CALGARY – Between 10 and 20 per cent of Canadian children will experience a serious anxiety disorder before they reach adulthood and one per cent of kids will experience obsessive compulsive disorder before age 15.
“Some degree of anxiety is normal,” says Dr. Paul Arnold, Director of the Matheson Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Calgary. “Where we start to get concerns is if their behaviors or emotional distress is persistent and starts to interfere with day to day life.”
Symptoms of anxiety disorders can be terrifying for children but they can also be difficult to spot. Calgary father and host of Hockey Night in Canada, Kelly Hrudey admits he missed the signs when his youngest daughter Kaitilin began struggling with mental illness nearly 10 years ago.
“It was really hard, we didn’t know what Kaitilin was going through,” the former NHL goaltender recalls. “We saw every individual behavior but we didn’t put everything as though it was one package.”
Kaitilin, who is now a second year university student at the U of C, says she began experiencing symptoms the summer before junior high.
“I had a lot of scary thoughts in my head, mostly about diseases and dying. They just became obsessive and I couldn’t control them. It came to a place that I convinced myself that if I stayed with my Mom and Dad the thoughts in my head wouldn’t come true so I would go to school or dance class or anything.”
Kaitilin says it was a terrifying time but after years of therapy she began experiencing more good days than bad. Now, she shares her story so that other families don’t feel so alone.
“I’ve been there and I know how scary it is but it does get better. As long as you stay strong and you keep fighting.”
Symptoms of OCD include intrusive, persistent, distressing thoughts and repetitive behavior. “The repetitive behavior is often what parents notice first,” says Arnold. “An example would be handwashing, certainly if you start to see excessive repetitive behaviors that are taking up a great deal of time, are distressing to the child or are interfering with their day to day life we start to get concerned with OCD.”
The most common form of treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy in which children are taught coping strategies to deal with their anxiety. Medication may also be used.
Kaitilin and Kelly Hrudey will be sharing their family’s story this Friday at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert. Tickets are still available online.