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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Study: Teens report post-9/11 anxiety

Children and teens in the United States are more worried about coping with stress after the September 11 attacks, says a national survey conducted by the School of Nursing and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.

While children showed higher levels of anxiety, in a surprising turn, parents surveyed actually worried less about their children's coping ability. Beyond this disparity, the study also highlights a gap between the perception of children and their parents as to how much the two groups talk to each other about children's anxiety, depression, and stress and shows a serious deficiency in discussion between children and their primary health care providers about their mental health problems.

"Parents think they're talking to their kids, but their kids don't think so or they're not hearing it," says Bernadette Melnyk, professor of nursing and primary investigator of the study. "Many of the children and teens said they needed more information about mental health problems. It's an area where health care providers need to focus more of their attention."

Researchers say the study reveals a widening gap in parent-child communication and perception. Approximately 80 percent of parents said they talk to their children at least sometimes about anxiety, while only about 37 percent of their children said the same about talking with their parents.

Since depression and similar problems can be factors in risky behavior such as substance abuse and unsafe sex, Melnyk sees this lack of communication as a lost chance to help children.

"Pediatric health care providers should see office visits as windows of opportunity to draw out their patients' concerns and worries," Melnyk says. "The key is providing the right environment to get children, teens, and parents to talk more about these mental health issues."

Nursing the mind

Finding ways to help primary care providers intervene earlier with children who have mental health or psychosocial problems is the focus of the new dual pediatric nurse practitioner and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner master's program in the School of Nursing--one of the first of its kind in the country.

"In this program, we want to provide a new holistic model of primary care for children geared not just to their biological needs but also their psychological and social health care needs," says Bernadette Melnyk, professor of nursing.

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