Dominion Hospital - March 12, 2019

When you conjure up memories of going to the school nurse, what comes to mind? Having your temperature taken? A bandage for a scrape? Maybe ice in a plastic baggie? Today, school nurses are doing more than handling fevers and providing a cot to nap on — they're playing an important role in helping students with anxiety.

According to reporting by the CDC, more than 7 percent of children aged 3 to 17 years have diagnosed anxiety (approximately 4.4 million children). However, because mental health conditions often go undiagnosed, the actual number of children battling anxiety is almost certainly higher than that.

What are the signs of anxiety?

There are a number of behaviors that can help identify a potential anxiety disorder in children and adolescents:

  • Physical complaints that seem to have no medical explanation, such as recurring stomachaches, nausea and headaches.
  • Excessive worries or fears about things like academic failure, health issues ("What if I have cancer?"), potential dangers ("What if the bus breaks down?"), or new situation.
  • Social cues, such as not participating in class, not talking to other kids, having few friends, or being fearful of using a public bathroom.
  • Other behavioral issues, including seeming angry, irritable or inflexible; acting out spontaneously; memory problems; overreacting; and repetitive behavior.

Where does the school nurse come in?

Parents aren't always able to witness or pick up on signs of anxiety in their children, particularly outside of the school day. But school nurses are uniquely positioned to help discover and manage anxiety in students. In fact, they can be a child's first point of entry into behavioral services. They know exactly who might be struggling — like the kids who always seem to have a stomachache or excessive worried thoughts.

The school nurse's office is often viewed as a "safe zone" for kids, where they may feel most comfortable talking about their stressors and fears. And because school nurses are a normal part of the school experience, visiting them can feel less stigmatizing for kids than seeking out a counselor or approaching parents.

The positive impact that school nurses can have on children with anxiety was shown in a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Instead of calling a parent or asking them to lay down, nurses helped students identify and confront their anxious feelings. The result? A measurable reduction in the children's anxiety.

If you think your child might be struggling with anxiety — or any other mental health issue — connect with the school nurse. Find out how often your child is visiting them and with what complaints. The school nurse can help you connect with teachers, administrators and school counselors so that everyone can lend a hand.

The more you partner with the school nurse on your child's health, the more likely you can identify, treat and manage their condition. Even after your child is diagnosed, the school nurse can be on standby during school hours to help should symptoms arise.

Dominion Hospital can help address your child's anxiety. Our programs are designed to help children and teens learn effective coping skills while teaching them to take an active role in their own recovery and recognize available support sources. Take our Anxiety Assessment to understand more about your child's risk.