Predictive Behaviors Of Mental Disorders In Adolescents

Predictive behaviors of mental disorders in adolescents

According to the United Nations, one in seven adolescents in the world suffers from a mental disorder. Fortunately, in our time there are many professionals who promulgate messages that seek to dismantle the stigma that surrounds people who suffer from a mental health problem. The conception of mental disorders as private problems that must be kept hidden within the family nucleus is becoming less and less common.

However, the fact that work is being done to ensure that people’s mental health is cared for and made visible should not overshadow the suffering of many adolescents who experience these sorrows in silence. Statistics only confirm again and again how common mental disorders are in the adolescent and adult population: currently, in people over twelve years of age, depression is the main cause of disability in the world. Regarding anxiety, some studies indicate that up to 30% of us can expect to develop an anxiety disorder throughout our lives. We also know that suicide is the fourth cause of death among adolescents and young people. The information is extensive, but we must know how to use it for prevention. Therefore, in this article we will develop what those are behaviors that can predict the development of a mental disorder in adolescents.

The causes of mental disorders in adolescents

First of all, to move towards the specific behaviors that are predictive of a mental disorder, it is necessary to know, in general terms, what factors intervene in its development. Addressing such a question exhaustively in this article would mean making too significant a reduction in all the theoretical frameworks that exist to explain the cause of mental pathology. We must also consider that different hypotheses have been developed in recent years to explain each mental disorder. For that reason, It is difficult to describe a cause for “mental disorders” since the explanations we have are not generalizable to all pathologies (for example, some authors maintain that the cause of schizophrenia lies in a neurodevelopmental disorder; a hypothesis that, as far as we know, would not be applicable to panic disorder).

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Factors involved in the development of a mental disorder

However, although it is difficult to establish a univocal cause, scientific research agrees that the approach to these disorders, both theoretically and procedurally, must conceive the etiology of the disease from different dimensions that converge at a specific moment in time. the story of a person. It is at this point that the disease emerges, and the factors that come together in it are different.

On the one hand, one must consider the biological factors that could influence the onset of the disease —inheritance, structural and functional alterations of the central nervous system—; psychological factors—personality, factors related to development, beliefs and biases that could exist in them—, and social factors—the social and ideological context, the roles they occupy in the family and bonding system, etc.—. Regarding the latter, it has been found that even factors such as being exposed to poverty, abuse or violence could increase an adolescent’s vulnerability to suffering from a mental disorder. It is for this reason that mental disorders are multifactorially determined, and this aspect must be considered at all times.

Behaviors that predict mental disorders in adolescents

That said, from a multifactorial perspective of the causes of a mental disorder, we can show how In adolescence there are certain risk factors that predispose to the onset of a disease. This does not mean that the fact that a teenager carries out any of the behaviors that we will list below will generate a mental disorder, but it does mean that it increases the possibility of it happening. We could think of it as a video game puzzle in which, to open a secret door, it is necessary to pull a specific combination of levers at the same time. We do not know what levers—that is, what behaviors or factors—may eventually evoke the disease, but if we have the majority active, there is a greater chance that the disorder will break out.

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Below, we present some of the behaviors that can be predictors of mental disorders in adolescents.

1. Inability to set limits

In disorders such as depression, family alienation and low trust are factors that are associated with the development of the pathology. Teenagers should be able to express what their needs are within the family and to establish limits with other members if necessary. On the contrary, they run the risk of complying with rules or orders that could be harmful to themselves, promoting illness.

2. Risky behavior due to lack of parental limits

At the opposite pole, adolescents can also carry out risky behaviors due to a very authoritarian or excessively permissive parenting style. For example, one of the factors that most influence substance use—which increases the risk of suffering from a mental disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or a depressive episode—is peer pressure. In a family context in which limits have not been set, it is likely that adolescents tend to use due to peer pressure and, consequently, are more exposed to suffering from a mental disorder.

3. Social isolation

Social isolation can cause adolescents to feel lonely and increase stress. Human beings need to bond with others as this comes from the need to ensure our survival; a baggage that we carry as a species. The results of multiple investigations agree that loneliness linked to higher rates of suicide, depression and anxiety. Social isolation as a predictive behavior of mental disorders could have been one of the factors that has increased the most as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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4. Low impulse control

The fact that a teenager acts impulsively and recklessly could lead to him carrying out risky behaviors without evaluating its consequences, harming his mental health in the medium and long term. Adolescents are inherently more prone to impulsivity than adults, since their brains—specifically, the prefrontal cortex—are still developing. Therefore, the executive faculties that correspond to this area of ​​the cortex, such as the inhibition of inappropriate behavior or problem solving, which requires the adolescent to weigh the possible consequences of his actions, are not completely fixed in his brain. .

5. Self-harm

Finally, a behavior that predicts the fact that a mental disorder is about to unfold (or has already done so) in an adolescent is the occurrence of self-harm in some part of their body. This could be related to borderline personality disorder (BPD). Self-harm is a way that people with emotional dysregulation find to relieve very intense and painful emotions.

These behaviors have the function of managing emotion: they return the person to the present, their physical tension is reduced and the pain that the person sees in their wound validates their emotional discomfort. Learning theory indicates that, through negative reinforcement, the relief generated by the behavior makes it more likely that it will be repeated in the future. However, in the long term, the problem with this way of coping with the presence of certain emotional stressors is not so much the fact that it could be linked to a disorder, but that, ultimately, it is a strategy that does not solve the problem. problem and makes you feel worse.

If any of the previously mentioned behaviors are detected, it is advisable to talk to the adolescent as much as possible, validate their pain, and facilitate access to a mental health professional to begin treatment.