One family opens up about severe teen anxiety and coping with it

With all of life’s demands, anxiety is difficult for some adults to deal with. And, for some teens, thanks to things like social media, anxiety and the stress of coping can be too much. One teen, and her parents, open up about their ordeal to cope with anxiety.

Mason Ritchie is popular, active and a competitive high school senior. She is also working toward her driver’s license and trying to get into a college of her choice next fall.

“It was all these things at the same time,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie thought she was juggling everything well, until one day.

“It felt like a heart attack,” Mason said.

It was the first of countless episodes that brought her normal teenage world to a dead stop.

“School, birthday parties, family events, everything,” Mason explained to FOX 29’s Joyce Evans. “I can’t go. No, my body starts shaking. I feel sick and I physically can’t get myself to go,” Ritchie said.

It was none of those things and things for Mason got worse.

“I couldn’t leave my upstairs. I couldn’t do it,” Mason said.

“It really has turned our life upside down,” said Darlene Ritchie, Mason’s mom.

Family outings can be nightmares, even when Mason wants to go.

“We had to physically carry her and she was fighting and crying and my son was in tears and we were in the truck holding her, trying to calm her down. Trying to head on our family vacation and we’re all in tears,” Darlene said.

At first, Mason’s dad wasn’t buying that his daughter just suddenly lost control.

“I was always looking for the trigger, what triggered this, what’s the cause of this. There’s a reason why she’s acting out like this,” said Joe Ritchie, Mason’s dad.

“She was a great student six months ago and now she doesn’t go to school anymore. I didn’t want to face that,” explained Joe.

Both her parents are educators.

“It’s hard to see a report card with straight F’s,” said Darlene.

As it turns out, Mason may be in a rapidly growing class of children suffering from mild to severe anxiety disorders.

“I’m still thinking, is that really it, is there something else, is she being bullied in school? Was there another issue? Is it social? Something happened on her phone or social media that caused her to do this?” said Joe.

Mason says no. And, while study after study site academic pressures to succeed, social media acceptance and self-esteem among the top triggers. Nemours Hospital Psychologist Dr. Cami Winklespecht says it’s really hard to say for sure what triggers teen anxieties.

“Everything is in the eye of the beholder. So what one person may find very stressful, another person may not. There’s a lot of independent variables that come into play when you’re thinking about anxiety,” Dr Winklespecht said.

She says the rise in teen anxiety cases may really be a reflection of more awareness and acceptance.

“If there is an increase in pressure, there’s also a comfort level in talking about it that we didn’t have before,” explained Dr. Winklespecht.

Knowing they’re not alone and getting past the stigma is another reason the Ritchie family wanted to talk on-camera.

“We want people to know what’s going on and if you see this in your child, don’t assume as I did ‘Oh they’re on drugs or just spoiled kids.’ They may have a true anxiety and depression and seek professional help as we did,” Joe explained 

“I’m on medication now, so it’s a lot better, easier to control. It still happens now, but I can get a hold of it to where before I couldn’t,” explained Mason.

She also uses an app called Mindshift to help her breath and to distract her attention. She’s beginning to talk more and do simple things with friends. Doing a little more every day.

“I feel like people should know it’s a thing and it’s out there and get help when you need it,” said Mason.

Mason is tutored at home and her school is working with the family.

“We’re hoping she’s still going to have the future that we want for her. Just a different path to get there,” Darlene said.

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