It is no secret that today’s adolescents face a dizzying number of stress factors in life, but few people realize the severe impact that stressful events can have on the mental health of young people. Here are just a few mental health disorders that are commonly seen in adolescents, and why there is much that we can do to help teens who are struggling to cope with these challenging conditions.
1. Anxiety Disorders
In a world that seemingly revolves around the constant ups and downs of the 24-hour news cycle, it should come as no surprise that today’s adolescents are experiencing anxiety and mood disorders in record numbers. By one estimate, as many as 2.6 million children and teenagers in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders over the last several years. No two anxiety disorders are exactly alike, and doctors commonly see young patients with conditions ranging from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These conditions are often defined by barrages of negative symptoms including recurring intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and pronounced feelings of irritability.
Fortunately, teenagers with anxiety disorders often respond well to treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Empathizing with young people who are struggling with anxiety disorders also helps: Many individuals with anxiety disorders tend to feel misunderstood or frustrated by societal beliefs related to the idea that their conditions aren’t “real” illnesses, and these kinds of attitudes can do much to exacerbate negative thoughts and emotions.
In recent years, much has been learned about the nature of depressive illnesses. Adolescence is a difficult time, and teenagers can often take big challenges to heart. Sometimes, the kind of pressure that children experience at home and in school can result in feelings of burnout and depression. Teenagers experiencing a depressive illness may feel listless, hopeless, and empty inside; they may also have uncontrollable bouts of suicidal ideation.
Unfortunately, society still has much work to do in terms of providing acceptance to people who are suffering from depressive illnesses. Chronic depression is a very serious condition, and stigmatization of this disorder can cause sufferers to avoid seeking help just when they need it most. Fortunately, speaking with teenagers about issues related to depressive illnesses can significantly help them in the healing process. Therapy can also help in profound ways.
3. Eating Disorders
There can be little doubt that the pressure on teenagers to appear a certain way to fit in socially has in many respects never been greater. On a daily basis, today’s teenagers are bombarded with media images of painfully thin celebrities. These images often portray unrealistic standards of beauty in a positive light.
Unfortunately, this pressure to be thin has resulted in a veritable epidemic of eating disorders in countries like the United States. Due to their age and limited emotional development, moreover, children are usually unable to separate “glamorous” images of celebrities from realistic and healthy body styles. Sadly, confusion about this issue on the part of teenagers can create a toxic desire for starvation diets and binge-and-purge eating cycles.
Indeed, conditions such as anorexia and bulimia are currently rife in the American school system. Fortunately, however, parents can do much to help at-risk children by highlighting the distinction between fantasy and reality that tends to be otherwise blurred in the television, film, and music industries. If children can differentiate between healthy and unhealthy eating habits, in other words, they will be better-prepared to develop healthy and fulfilling self-images as they grow into adulthood.
4. Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder
While most adolescents will display hyperactive behaviors from time to time, children with Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) struggle to focus in school and at home on a regular and constant basis. Therapy can certainly help kids with ADHD, and many teens with the condition often go on to achieve remarkable things in life. (Indeed, Albert Einstein was likely kicked out of school due to an unrecognized case of ADHD. Later in life, he went on to revolutionize the fields of physics and astronomy.)
While today’s children often struggle with the challenges of growing up in a technologically-advanced society, the truth is that we can do much to help at-risk adolescents when they experience mental health difficulties. The good news is that teens respond very well to therapy, and adults who listen to their children often find that empathy works wonders in the healing process. Truly, that is parenting at its best!