It’s something that everyone deals with on a daily basis to some extent, but for students, high stress levels can result in a litany of further issues.
Most recently, a breakout of uncontrollable twitching and tics swept across a small New York community in October, affecting teenage girls and one teenage boy of the same school, as well as a 34-year old woman.
Doctors remain perplexed over the exact cause of the tics — not directly pinpointing an exact medical malady — but instead attribute the condition to conversion disorder.
According to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, conversion disorder manifests itself in multiple neurological symptoms that cannot be explained by medical means. Symptoms tend to be triggered by psychological conflict or stress-induced, leaving doctors to analyze any stressful situations the 15 teens might have experienced, said Dr. Jennifer McVige, a pediatric neurologist who has examined 10 of the students.
“All of the kids had something big that happened,” such as divorcing parents or other upsetting circumstances, McVige told the Associated Press.
Although local schools haven’t witnessed the extreme circumstances of conversion disorder sprouting in their student population, the tell-tale signs of stress and anxiety aren’t often times very clear to recognize, said Amy Smith, Paducah Tilghman High School nurse.
“I see symptoms of what could be stress and anxiety — frequent headaches and stomach aches — not that it can really be pinpointed to stress, but if it’s not anything else then that tends to be the conclusion we reach,” Smith said.
On average, Smith said about 50 students approach her through the course of a day, expressing symptoms of high anxiety or stress levels. However, many students tend to keep their concerns to themselves, shying away from help.
Symptoms of stress in a teen may take different forms, making it difficult for parents and teachers to recognize the signs, said Dr. Sarah Shelton, Licensed Clinical Health Psychologist in Paducah. Signs of teen stress can range from angry outbursts to an emotional disconnect from their surroundings.
“Cognitively, stress affects teens differently than adults, because the teenage brain is fixated on the short term with failure to recognize the lesser impact of a current problem over the long term,” Shelton said, using the example of broken-hearted teenagers really believing they will never love again.
Early prevention is key and the quicker a parent or an educator can notice significant changes in a teen’s personality, mood state or behavior, the quicker a teen can be helped, Shelton said.
“Stress left untreated can develop into a depressive episode or anxiety disorder, which can require more extensive treatment,” Shelton said.
“For example, stress can be a causal or exacerbating factor for migraines and gastrointestinal problems. Stress lowers immunity and is correlated with several autoimmune conditions as well as heart disease.”
While many adults assume the teenage years to be some of the most carefree in a young person’s life, Shelton said the reality is that today’s teens are increasingly facing adult-level problems, though only equipped with child-level coping abilities.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Call Will Pinkston, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.