white coat

The key to spotting anxiety in kids could be an 18-month checkup

Family doctors need to be on the lookout for signs of anxiety in children as young as 18 months, says a family doctor in Halifax who has been treating children for more than 20 years.
Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan says emergency rooms are quick to deal with critical physical illnesses but are not as able to cope with mental health ailments. (Courtesy of Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan)

Family doctors need to be on the lookout for signs of anxiety in children as young as 18 months, says a family doctor n Halifax who has been treating children for more than 20 years. 

Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan tells Dr. Brian Goldman, host of White Coat, Black Art that the 18-month check up is critical. 

"(It's) actually flagged as one of the most important points in time that a family doctor can sit down with a family and ask questions like, 'How do you find your child ... introverted or extroverted? Do you find they are easy to soothe?'" she explains.

The family doctor says she asks questions like that to "illicit an understanding of what that toddler will evolve into." 

If there are signs of anxiety, she begins to counsel parents on how to help their child manage the symptoms from an early age and helps the child to "self-regulate." 

Dr. Jayabarathan is seeing more — and younger — patients who suffer from anxiety and depression. She's frustrated that many end up seeking help in emergency departments because of a shortage of mental health services. 

I am very frustrated...The system has very long waiting times and there is a shortage of publicly funded therapists.-  Dr.  Ajantha   Jayabarathan , family practice doctor in  HalifaxSource

She's says family doctors have to be "resourceful and creative" to fill in the gaps in care. She's developed a roster of her own resources, including a children's book called  "Sitting Still Like A Frog."  which teaches children aged five to 12 and their parents about using mindfulness to regulate their emotions. 

Dr. Ajantha Jayabarathan treats anxious children in Halifax, Nova Scotia

She says children like Leo DeVries, who shared his struggle to get treatment for anxiety with White Coat, Black Art, are not well-served by the healthcare system, especially when they find themselves in an emergency department, as Leo did — adding that ERs are quick to deal with critical physical illnesses but are not as able to cope with mental health ailments. 

 "I think the emergency departments need to reinvent themselves intelligently so that there is no wrong door when someone's life is in danger whether it's physical or emotional,"  Dr. Jayabarathan says.
 

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