Psychologists struggling to cope with youth anxiety in New Zealand - expert

Child psychologists are struggling to keep up with demand as the number of children with anxiety continues to increase. 

With a direct link between anxiety and depression, psychologists say New Zealand needs to take an urgent and preventative approach.    

Children as young as three are being treated across the country. 

"They just won't stop crying until mum comes home," child psychologist Elaine West told Newshub. 

"They can refuse to eat in public, refuse to go to playgrounds, hide from grandparents."

Ms West recalls one child who was about seven or eight who was so scared they went to bed every night thinking Donald Trump was going to climb through their window and hurt them. 

Ms West's fellow psychologists have had to extend their work hours and hire new staff to cope with the demand. 

"At the moment we've got an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff mentality, so children aren't seen in the public service until they get really severe," she says. 

In 2006, 3000 children aged between two and 14 were diagnosed with anxiety. A decade later, that number had bumped up to 24,000. Experts believe there are a number of reasons for the trend. 

Poverty has contributed, as has increased divorce rates, pressure for children to perform to national standards at school, and social media. 

Children are also growing up with role models from a generation of undiagnosed anxious parents. 

All of these reasons have contributed to the increase in children's anxiety, and that's not to mention the impact of disasters such as the Christchurch earthquake. 

Dr Sarah Alexander, chief executive of New Zealand early childhood education organisation ChildForum, has one more theory: she believes parents need more free time to spend with their kids.  

"Many children start early childhood education from six weeks of age, they might attend for 10 hours a day, five days a week," she says. 

"Children are struggling to form good bonds with parents, parents are struggling to develop parenting skills to know how to parent their young children because there's not the time there in the day any longer for parents and families and children to be together."

With youth anxiety often leading to depression in later life, many agree that action can't come soon enough.