Nfld. & Labrador

Mentally ill or ill-equipped? Anxiety top issue in schools, says guidance counsellor

Children are being treated with anti-anxiety medication to avoid healthy stresses early in life, says a guidance counsellor on the northeast Avalon.

Boyd Perry worries about students being misdiagnosed

Boyd Perry, a guidance counsellor on the northeast Avalon, says anxiety is the main issue his colleagues see in schools. (CBC)

Are more children suffering from anxiety disorders, or are doctors too quick to write a prescription?

It's a tough subject, but one that guidance counsellor Boyd Perry does not shy away from.

Perry, who is also vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Counsellors and Psychologists Association, said anxiety is the number one issue seen by guidance counsellors in schools across Newfoundland and Labrador.

"What we see most as counsellors right through the province is an increase in a child's inability to deal with the stressors in their lives," he said.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, between 10 and 20 per cent of children are affected by a mental health disorder. American estimates put the number between 12 and 13 per cent.

Children as young as kindergarten are being diagnosed with anxiety disorders, Perry said. At the high school level, anti-anxiety medications are commonplace.

When mom and dad can't fix that particular situation, they fall apart.- Boyd Perry

Perry worries children may be developing unhealthy methods of coping, enabled by quick diagnoses from doctors and a willingness to overprescribe.

"We're seeing a lot of young teenagers that are on medication for anxiety, for depression," Perry said.

"Don't get me wrong, there's young people out there suffering significantly."

Misdiagnosed and overprescribed?

However, guidance counsellors are concerned not all of these children should be on anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication, Perry said.

"I don't feel all these children are disordered. They're not mentally ill. They're ill-equipped."

Anti-anxiety medications could be overprescribed to students, says guidance counsellor Boyd Perry. (

As a parent and a guidance counsellor, Perry said the bubble parents created around children is conducive to a lack of coping skills when stress arises in a child's life.

If we take that away as a young child, they have nothing to fall back on as they get older.- Boyd Perry

Parents don't want to see their children hurt or disappointed, so they shield them from it for as long as possible.

"We create situations whereby they don't experience those things. Or when they are experiencing these things, we'll fix it for them."

Without exposure to stressful situations, Perry said children are unable to develop healthy coping skills. 

"They need to feel [stressors] in order to develop that resiliency, that thick skin," he said. "If we take that away as a young child, they have nothing to fall back on as they get older. 

"When mom and dad can't fix that particular situation, they fall apart."

Problems are intensified at certain times of the year, including exam season. Students will get doctor's notes exempting them from exams or making arrangements to write them in a different room.

Anxiety needs to be assessed in a different light, Perry said, or the problem will only continue to get worse.

"I'm a little scared. I'm scared we're not going to put the brakes on fast enough."

With files from Here and Now