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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

As rates of anxiety rise in middle school students, Hornsby hosts event to raise awareness

While discussions about mental health are becoming more common, one local school is addressing the issue at a different level: Middle school students.

“It’s here and it’s relevant,” said Amber Spicer, a counselor at Hornsby Middle School. “We try to address anxiety at every level, even in the elementary schools.”

Last Thursday at Hornsby, the Parent Teacher Student Association screened the documentary “Angst,” which raises awareness around anxiety in younger students.

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, 31.4 percent of children ages of 13-14 experience signs of an anxiety disorder.

Spicer said one topic she wished the documentary had made clearer was the difference between anxious behavior and an anxiety disorder.

Anxious behavior, she said, could be described as any normal behavior related to stressful situations. For example, anxiety over a test.

Spicer said it is good to learn at a young age how to manage those behaviors to better address them as they get older, but anxious behavior is not the same as a disorder.

“What (anxiety disorder) seems like is they are starting to lose their functionality,” Spicer said. “It could be becoming irrational and not getting through the school day. It’s mentally and physically debilitating.”

Spicer made it clear school counselors never diagnose students but instead are trained to recognize the signs and suggest the best path for them.

But now Spicer said it seems as if there are more students than ever coming in not just with questions about anxiety, but mental health in general.

“Is it increasing in prevalence or are we just more aware? It’s a little gray,” she said. “It does seem to be on the rise as we have more conversations and less stigma. But what I’ve seen in my field when we talk about more diagnoses, we can’t tell what’s the chicken and what’s the egg.”

Between 2007 and 2012, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there was approximately a 1 percent increase in rates of students between the ages of 6 and 17 being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in some form.

Spicer said there isn’t a definite reason why it appears rates of anxiety are increasing but she said it could be because of different societal pressures on today’s youth.

One of the examples she mentioned was from a discussion period after the screening of “Angst.”

“A student asked ‘why do we start talking about college so young?’ and it is something like that which might seem further down the road when we present it to them, but for them it is something that they have to tackle right now,” Spicer said.

Spicer said the developing mind for an adolescent doesn’t have the higher level problem solving in socio-emotional situations, so thinking in long-term doesn’t always register. Part of what could be causing the anxiety is that future decisions seem like ones that need to be made right in the moment, such as college choices and professions.

That’s why Hornsby decided to create an event to help parents and student recognize and manage various levels of anxiety.

“We want this to be a proactive thing,” Spicer said. “It was the PTSA initiative… and we hope it will continue to open up further discussions.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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