Anxiety, Depression and LDs
By Jill Harkavy-Friedman, Ph.D.
Anxiety and depression are feelings that everyone experiences at various times in their life. Concerns arise, however, when those feelings persist for weeks or months and interfere with routine functioning. Anxiety and depression—which often go hand-in-hand—may start off in one situation and gradually bleed into other aspects of life, leading at worst to extreme behaviors ranging from tantrums to attempted suicide.
Reasons for Anxiety and Depression with LD/ADHD
Children with learning disabilities may be more vulnerable to anxiety and depression than others for several reasons:
o Processing deficits may make the environment feel overwhelming. The familiar is comfortable; but the unfamiliar can be a nightmare for some children. For the child with LD/ADHD, walking into a restaurant can feel like being a young child in Times Square on New Year’s Eve: too many people, too much noise, and the feeling of being trapped can lead to panic. Next time the child is expected to go out, he begins to worry hours before. By the time he’s ready to leave, he anticipates the worst, and would rather stay where he feels he can cope than venture into the unknown. Because no one else knows why he is so upset or understands his discomfort, the result is that he feels isolated and alone.
o Frequent feelings of embarrassment and humiliation in school may introduce depression and anxiety. Think what it feels like to be a child with dyslexia who is required to write an in-class essay about the book she has read. Perhaps her book was a little less advanced than the other kids’ or she hasn’t been able to finish it. She knows that her spelling and punctuation will be full of mistakes, and the likelihood that she might produce a coherent essay in one class period is slim to none. She feels embarrassed, diminished by her difficulties, ineffective, and enormously stressed.
o Underlying biological mechanisms such as brain transmitter dysfunctions or a family history of depression or anxiety can also precipitate these issues. Cortisol is a chemical substance that the body naturally increases production of during times of stress. It’s responsible for the “fight or flight” response, enabling people either to face an aggressor or to flee. The production of excessive amounts of cortisol when a child is stressed may relate to increased depression and anxiety. For this reason, learning to cope with stress and to use relaxation techniques can be a very effective antidote to these negative feelings. The body cannot be both relaxed and tense at the same time. Children who learn how to relax their minds and bodies can invoke what they have learned in times of stress to alleviate feelings of tension and anxiety. Another possible source of relief is medications that work on the cortisol system as well as on other brain chemicals.