The life of a young adult is a like a rollercoaster that last for years. With emotional ups and downs and ins and outs, a young person can feel on the verge of something – anything – long after puberty sets in. Early adulthood is a period marked by changes and growth physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is also during this time that the onset of mental health disorders can occur – illnesses that can severely impact the life of the individual for years to come.
First, it’s understood that young adults can be moody, cranky, and angst-ridden with or without the influence of a mental health disorder. That’s just part of growing up. Young adults generally love or hate things, and one bad day can make them feel like the world is toppling down.
Because young people are prone to mood swings and often feel out of control, it may be hard to identify what is a mental health disorder and what are normal growing pains.
But there are indicators that a young person’s bad mood may be a little bit more serious:
- The bad mood or grumpiness persists, lasting longer than a few days
- Withdrawn socially
- Continual anger, irritability or depression
- Dramatic changes in appetite or sudden weight loss or gain
An Overview on Mental Health Disorders in Young Adults
It is estimated by ChildTrends.org that approximately one in five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder. These disorders can range from depression, anxiety and autism spectrum disorder to personality and behavioral disorders. This is a time also when mental illnesses can be first recognized in a person. Typically, up to half of all substance abuse and mental health disorders have roots or can be identified before age 14. The number climbs to three-quarters by age 24.
Genetics and family situations do tend to have a role in adolescent mental health. Males tend to have behavioral and autism spectrum disorders as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while females are often prone to depression and eating disorders. People who were raised in families of abuse (sexual or physical), whose parents have lower levels of education, or whose parents also have mental health disorders tend to be predisposed to mental health conditions of their own.
Common Mental Health Disorders
The National Institute of Mental Health Disorders estimates that 3.7 percent of children ages 8 to 15 have depression in the United States. It is the most prevalent of mental health disorders among those at this age, with at least 25 percent of high school students exhibiting some mild symptoms. The British Medical Journal cited that approximately 8 to 10 percent have severe depressive symptoms.
As with depression in adults, adolescent depression is often marked by the same overwhelming sadness, anger and melancholy. Unlike adults, however, teenage depression may include more irritability than sadness, as well as hostility. Teenagers experiencing depression may also be hypersensitive and complain of headaches or stomachaches, as reported by HelpGuide.org.
In addition to these signs and the above generalized symptoms, you may also want to look for:
- Feelings of worthlessness, loneliness or helplessness
- Problems concentrating
- Extreme fatigue or disinterest
- Frequent crying
- Thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with death
Anxiety disorders, next to depression, are among the most common mental health disorders in young people. This can include phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). An estimated 10 percent of young people suffer from any of the above. Again, like adult mental health disorders, these earlier versions of anxiety problems can be very similar.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents is also marked by continual thoughts of the same image or impulse. Traumatic events in a child’s life can trigger PTSD symptoms, just as extreme fears of people, places, or things can signal phobias. Young adults with anxiety may appear withdrawn, highly uneasy, or fearful. They may also seem overly emotional, unresponsive or unrestrained.
Eating disorders +
Eating disorders like bulimia nervosa (bulimia), anorexia nervosa (anorexia), or body dysmorphia can affect around 5 percent of young people and can lead to serious physical complications. They are more than dieting or exercising to maintain weight. Bulimia is a purging disorder in which a person may binge eat and purge the food afterward, while anorexia entails eating considerably small amounts of food or no food at all.
This mental health problem is most common in girls and young women, perhaps due to the social pressures seemingly placed upon them by peers, the entertainment industry, and the impossible standards set by models in magazines. Signs of either disorder may include dramatic losses in weight, a thin or frail appearance, going to the bathroom right after eating, being continually unhappy with one’s appearance, or fear of weight gain.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) +
One of the more common mental health conditions, ADHD affects approximately 8.6 percent of adolescents ages 8 to 15 years. The number gets slightly higher at 9 percent among teenagers 12 to 17 years old. Marked by a shortened attention span, impulsiveness, hyperactivity and disorganization, ADHD is becoming more and more prevalent across the US. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, ADHD can be identified in many cases long before adolescence.
Young people with this disorder frequently become bored easily, fail to concentrate even for short periods of time, and can be disruptive. This problem may be evident in both the home and in school but typically presents itself most often in school. Parents can be the first to identify this as the child may not be fully cognizant of his or her own actions. When treated early, symptoms of ADHD can decrease by 50 percent into adulthood.
Why Treatment Is Necessary
Getting help for mental health disorders can prevent a variety of problems in the future for a young adult. Because young people often feel like their emotions are out of control anyway, a mental health condition can compound these feelings, making the person feel hopeless and truly out of reach. Unfortunately, less than half of young adults with mental health disorders get the help they need. People can feel ashamed or embarrassed about their feelings and opening up to someone about them, so many don’t receive treatment.
Consequences of mental health problems can include poor performance in school or at work, lack of established friendships and much-needed social interactions, substance or alcohol abuse, risky sexual behavior leading to infectious diseases, and suicide.
In fact, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among persons ages 10 to 24 years. Of that population, 90 percent had a mental health disorder and approximately 60 percent had depression at the time of suicide.
This may sound alarmist, but it’s very important to seek help should you believe a young person in your life has a mental health problem. Call our treatment coordinators here at FRN today. We may be able to help identify an underlying mental illness and help you determine how to best treat the problem. We offer flexible treatment options that are designed to best match your situation. Don’t let this wait. Call us today.
Further Reading About Common Disorders in Young Adults
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.