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Intensity, Anxiety & Depression – The Dark Side of Giftedness

Gifted Parenting and Strategies

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Tracy Cross, who provides advice for parents of students exhibiting traits of anxiety and depression.

Author: Cross, T.
Organization: Davidson Institute
Year: 2011

Tips for Parents: Depression and Emotional Intensities

This seminar facilitated by Dr. Cross consisted of parents describing behaviors such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, cutting, extreme fear, and intensities. Dr. Cross provided feedback on how they might improve their child’s situation. Other issues such as taking children out of school and homeschooling them as a means to lessen the degree to which their child was struggling was also discussed. Several parents offered their own experiences of trying to deal these same issues.

The role of counseling as a potential intervention was discussed. Ideas about benefits and costs of counseling, along with how to identify good counselors were discussed. Trying to determine effectiveness of the counseling process was also discussed.

Dr. Cross also discussed the following characteristics of giftedness and how they may overlap or influence DSM readings related to mental health.

Endogenous Characteristics. Originate from characteristics of the individual. Examples in Gifted Students:

  • Overexcitabilities/Heightened Sensitivities/Intensities
  • Asynchronous Development
  • Perfectionism
  • Excessive Self-Criticism
  • Multipotentiality


Exogenous Characteristics. Emerge as byproducts of the interaction of characteristics of the child with the environment. Example in Gifted Students:

  • Desire for academic engagement within a school environment not accepting of students who are very serious about learning

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (DSM-IV)

“Diagnostic criteria for mental disorders are essentially descriptions of symptoms that fall into one of four categories. In major depressive disorder for example, affective or mood symptoms include depressed mood and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Behavioral symptoms include social withdrawal and agitation. Cognitive symptoms, or problems in thinking include difficulty with concentration or making decisions. Finally, somatic or physical symptoms include insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)”.

“Specifiers associated with the mood disorders are listed below:
Mild: A few symptoms, if any, are present beyond what is needed to make a diagnosis, and a person can function normally although with extra effort.
Moderate: The severity of symptoms is between mild and severe. For a manic episode, a person’s activity is increased or judgment is impaired.
Severe Without Psychotic Features: Most symptoms are present and a person clearly has little or no ability to function. For a manic or mixed episode, a person needs to be supervised to protect him/her from harm to self or others”.

“There is evidence to show that the gifted are influenced by their peers’, parents’ and teachers’ feelings about their abilities. If they are seen as mental freaks, unhealthy personalities, or eccentric simply because they are brainy or creative, many of them will avoid the stigma through conformity. Some would rather underachieve and be popular than achieve honor status and receive ostracism”. Tannenbaum 1984, p. 466.

Common Coping Methods of Gifted Students Underachieving, Identify with Non-intellectual Group, Downplay Abilities, Deny Giftedness, Intellectualize Reactions to Perceived Social Difficulty, Manage Information, Sit Quietly, Suicidal Behavior


  • Try to obtain information from multiple sources that help you come up with a thorough assessment of your child.
  • Try to locate a competent/well trained about gifted children, psychologist or psychiatrist who can work on behalf of your child.
  • Look for teachable moments to work with your child.
  • Model the kinds of behaviors that are desired.
  • Remember that your child is a child first and gifted second.
  • Look for effective strategies that work with all children as possibly effective with your own child.
  • Make sure that your child has time to be a child.
  • Try to build in some exercise time.
  • Build a network of professional experts who can help.
  • Establish communication among parents, teachers, and counselors.
  • Teach gifted children social skills, ways to manage stress, and to enjoy nonacademic activities.
  • Try to understand the social milieu of school.
  • Learn about individual child’s personality, social goals, and needs.



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