Students suffer severe classroom anxiety

Saturday, November 8th 2008, 8:16 pm
By: News 9

By Jennifer Pierce, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Getting on the bus every morning and heading to school can be nerve wracking for kids, but for many students, their anxiety can be much more severe.

Some call it school phobia, others call it school refusal, but no matter what it's called, experts say it's real.

The problem can become so severe that children will complain of headaches, stomachaches and suffer depression because of the anxiety.

For 8th grader David Wolfcale, the anxiety began in fourth grade when he started complaining of frequent stomachaches. A couple years later, the stress really escalated and he became dangerously depressed.

"He stated to me in the car, hysterically crying in front of the school, 'It would be better if I didn't even exist,'" mother Vickie Wolfcale said.

It's often associated with separation anxiety, especially in the youngest set. Others have social phobias. Some feel academic or performance pressure and children with learning disorders are especially vulnerable. Bullying is also a big reason today's kids are breaking down.

All kids experience some sort of school stress, but it can be difficult for parents to know if their child's stress goes beyond the norm.

"Parents should understand that school refusal is a very common problem," said Doctor Chris Kearney, of the Child School Refusal and Anxiety Disorders Clinic.

Experts said parents should first talk to their kids about what's bothering them and then talk to school officials. Sometimes, professional help is needed, including therapy and medication.

"The child should go to school as much as possible," Doctor Kearney said.

Sticking to a morning routine can be key for many kids. A routine, along with medication, has helped David Wolfcale with his school anxiety.

Medication and therapy helped Tara Meehan, another girl who suffered school anxiety, overcome her phobia and go onto college. She said although those steps were very helpful in her recovery, support kept her hopes for recovery alive.

"This phobia is very real and very scary and just having that support -- that was the most important part, I think, of my recovery," Meehan said.

Click here to learn more about this anxiety disorder, including what age groups are most likely to suffer, causes and treatments.