Child and adolescent mental health

Panic disorder

What is panic disorder?

A child or young person with panic disorder suffers sudden anxiety attacks that include overwhelming dread and physical symptoms such as a rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Their panic attacks are unpredictable, can cause feelings that they are about to die or have a heart attack, and a disconnection from reality. They may also have a strong urge to flee the situation they are in. Some children may refuse to leave the home if they fear further attacks and, in extreme cases, become househbound.

Symptoms of panic disorder in childhood

  • Heart attack-like symptoms such as a racing heart and chest pains

  • A sudden and overwhelming fear of death

  • A fear of losing control, that they are 'going mad' or a feeling that the world is unreal

  • An intense desire to flee from the situation

  • Physical symptoms such as feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint; nausea; a chocking sensation; sweating; hot flushes or chills; body temperature changes; blurred vision; numbness or tingling in the limbs; shaking or trembling; and shortness of breath.

  • After an attack, which usually peaks within 10 minutes, children may be left with an intense fear of another attack.

NB To make the diagnosis of panic disorder, panic attacks must be associated with longer than one month of subsequent persistent worry about: (1) having another attack or consequences of the attack, or (2) significant maladaptive behavioural changes related to the attack. They cannot directly or physiologically result from substance misuse, medical conditions, or another psychiatric disorder. The attacks need to be recurrent, and unexpected. There will also be a considerable change in their usual behaviour following the attacks, such as avoiding places associated with them. The child or young person does not have to experience all of the listed symptoms above to get a diagnosis but there will be intense fear and unease, comprised of both physical symptoms and a number of fearful thoughts. Also, as the symptoms above can be indicative of another mental health condition or even a physical problem, so it is important to see a GP if there are any concerns about a child or young person.

Case studies

Panic attacks affect lots of people, but they can still be really scary and hard to deal with. Kaitlyn, 15, shares what helps her when she has a panic attack. A young person's blog for YoungMinds. 

A young person describes their first panic attack and how finding the right therapist helped them.

A 15-year-old in year 11 has been having really bad panic attacks at school where they have to leave the classroom. They have a card which means they can go whenever they need to. But they don’t know how to stop the panic attacks and when they happen they feel like their throat is closing up and can’t breath and begin to feel super sick (being sick is their biggest phobia) which makes them even more panicked. They ask Childline for tips on how to get rid of a panic attack in class.

Websites and web pages

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Panic attacks are really common. They happen suddenly and the person might feel like something bad is about to happen. No physical harm can come from having a panic attack. childline explain what a panic attack feels like and what causes them, There is also information on coping and dealing with panic attacks, with suggestions of a number of different techniques.

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Happiful magazine's mission is to create a healthier, happier, more sustainable society by providing informative, inspiring and topical stories about mental health and wellbeing. 

I’m 15 in year 11 and lately I’ve been having really bad panic attacks at school where I’ll have to leave the classroom. I have a card which means I can go whenever I need to. I don’t know how to stop these panic attacks and when they happen I feel like my throat is closing up and I can’t breath and I begin to feel super sick (being sick is my biggest phobia) which makes me even more panicked. Do you have any tips on how to get rid of a panic attack in class?

In this article, Kat Nicholls gives tips on how you can assist a child who is experiencing a panic attack

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The Mix is here to take on the embarrassing problems, weird questions, and please-don’t-make-me-say-it-out-loud thoughts that people under 25 have in order to give them the best support through their digital and phone services. Their Vision is that all young people should be able to make informed choices about their physical and mental wellbeing so that they can live better lives. 

 

Writer and mental health campaigner Natasha Devon talks about her own experience of having panic attacks and how she learnt to cope with them. She shares the breathing techniques she uses, explains the origin of panic attacks, and there are also tips from other young people. 

Breathe. Psychologist Dr Aaron talks about how to calm yourself down when you feel a panic attack coming on. For young people.

Videos

The intimate first person testimony of these two young people will help students to understand what it can feel like to go through a panic attack, and will help them see how someone can get into a state of panic to begin with.

This short animation explains exactly what happens when a panic attack occurs and reassures you that it will not harm you.

Dylan explains how it feels to have panic attacks and how his first attack happened out of the blue in maths lesson in school. He goes on to describe how CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) has helped him.

Diagnostic criteria

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