In a previous article, I wrote about my experience with a student who was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). About one in 10 children and adolescents suffer from this disorder that causes unwanted thoughts that the patient then tries to control with rituals like excessive hand-washing. As I was helping my student manage his treatment plan for the classroom, I had no idea that what I was learning would also help my own son, Patrick. He has given me permission to tell his story, in the hope that it will help other teens like him.
Patrick was a sophomore in high school when one day I was stopped, cold. Sitting across the dinner table from him, I was able to see quite clearly that no eyelashes remained on his left eyelid! My reaction, I admit, was not the best. I fired one question after another at him. “When did you do that? Did you use tweezers? What do you mean, you can’t remember?”
Soon after, the eyebrows grew sparse and most of the lashes on the other eye disappeared. I quickly realized that, just like my former student, this was a behavior my son could not control. So, I made an appointment with our family doctor, fully expecting to hear a diagnosis of OCD. Much to my surprise, the doctor explained that although the eyebrow and eyelash pulling was an unwanted behavior, it was not disruptive to his everyday life and could not be labeled as OCD. It did not, for example, make him late for school on a regular basis. Our long-time family doctor ruled out OCD, but provided me with information on a broader topic—anxiety disorder—which also includes OCD, panic attacks, and post traumatic stress disorder.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorder is prevalent in 25 percent of children aged 13 to 18 years old. It is recommended that children and adolescents who are suffering from anxiety disorder start with a health check-up. After that, the primary care doctor may make a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. A mental health therapist often uses cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) to teach the patient various ways to respond to stress, including breathing and relaxation techniques.