Mental problems don’t just happen in adulthood, but pretty much 1 in 5 children and adolescents suffer from a psychological disorder.
In fact, many of the more common disorders, such as mood and anxiety disorders, develop frequently or begin to manifest during adolescence and youth.
Common psychological disorders in adolescence
In this article we will describe eight of the most common adolescent mental health problems. All are caused to a greater or lesser extent by an interaction between biological predisposition and environmental effects, and their symptoms tend to be more similar to those of adults older than adolescent age.
1. Major depression and dysthymia
According to the DSM-IV, major depressive disorder is characterized by the presence of a pathologically low mood and the difficulty in obtaining pleasure from performing rewarding activities (anhedonia). Dysthymia is a depressive disorder in which symptoms are less severe but remain chronic for at least 2 years.
Depressive disorders are twice as common in women as in men and appear more frequently during the third and fourth decades of life, although they can appear at any age. Experiencing traumatic experiences and learning depressive beliefs during childhood are relevant factors in their development.
2. Generalized anxiety disorder
People with generalized anxiety disorder worry excessively and systematically because of their negative, often irrational, expectations. This causes associated physical and cognitive symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, upset stomach, sweating and muscle tension.
Like depression, generalized anxiety disorder is twice as common in women. It is very common for people with this problem to be diagnosed with other anxiety and mood disorders as well, especially dysthymia.
3. Drug addiction and dependence
Consumption of psychoactive substances, such as alcohol, cannabis or cocaine, is commonly started during adolescence. While many adolescents make occasional use or quit smoking after a certain period of time, in other cases they can develop disorders due to substance abuse or dependence with a high risk of chronicity.
4. Contestation of dissocial and negativist disorders
Dissocial disorder is an early and less serious variant of antisocial personality disorder. Criteria for dissocial disorder include the use of physical and verbal violence against people or other animals, theft, destruction of other people’s property or serious violations of the rules by parents and the academic center.
An associated problem is challenging negativity disorder, which is diagnosed in children and adolescents who disobey adults, have a marked tendency to anger, and accuse others of their misconduct. The diagnostic criteria for these behavioral disorders have been criticized for including value judgments of an ethical nature.
5. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are frequently associated with adolescence and youth, although they can occur at any time in life. Psychosocial factors are currently contributing to a advancing the average age of onset of these eating disorders in much of the world.
Binge eating disorder is a disorder that belongs to the same category and was recently included in the DSM-5. It is characterized by the presence of compulsive ingestion episodes similar to those that occur in bulimia, although it is associated with obesity in the absence of compensatory behaviors such as induction of vomiting.
6. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
The controversial Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is usually diagnosed in childhood. In more than half of the cases, the symptoms refer to adolescence and youth, but in the rest they persist throughout adulthood. ADHD involves an increase in ADHD likelihood of developing addiction, depression or anxiety disorders.
As the popularization of the diagnosis of ADHD is relatively recent, it is common to find similar alterations in adults diagnosed with impulse control disorders, as well as other psychological problems related to impulsivity and psychophysiological agitation.
7. Social phobia
People with social anxiety disorder, better known as social phobia, experience great discomfort situations that involve interaction with other people. This can lead to physical and cognitive symptoms typical of anxiety attacks, such as tachycardia and difficulty breathing. In many cases, this is due to school rejection or bullying.
8. Adjustment and stress disorders
Adaptive disorders are diagnosed when the person presents moderate anxiety or depressive symptoms following important life events. These problems are more common in young people, including adolescents, as they tend to have less effective strategies for dealing with stress.
Something similar happens with acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. While the first label is used when symptoms caused by a traumatic event last less than a month, post-traumatic stress disorder is a more serious and long-lasting variant that carries a high risk of suicide.