The 8 Most Common Mental Disorders In Adolescence

Mental problems do not only occur in adulthood, but approximately 1 in 5 children and adolescents suffer from some psychological disorder.

In fact, many of the most common disorders, such as mood and anxiety disorders, frequently develop or begin to manifest during adolescence and youth.

Common psychological disorders in adolescence

In this article we will describe eight of the most common mental health problems in adolescence. All of them are caused to a greater or lesser extent by an interaction between biological predisposition and the effects of the environment, and their symptoms tend to become more similar to those of adults the older the adolescent is.

1. Major depression and dysthymia

According to the DSM-IV, major depressive disorder is characterized by the presence of a pathologically low mood and difficulty obtaining pleasure by performing rewarding activities (anhedonia). Dysthymia is a depressive disorder whose symptoms are less intense but remain chronic, for at least 2 years.

Depressive disorders are twice as common in women as in men and begin more frequently in the third and fourth decades of life, although they can appear at any age. The experience of traumatic experiences and the learning of depressogenic 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 to appear such as insomnia, irritability, stomach pain, sweating and muscle tension.

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Like depression, generalized anxiety disorder is twice as common in women. It is very common for people with this problem to also be diagnosed with other anxiety and mood disorders, especially dysthymia.

3. Substance abuse and dependence

The consumption of psychoactive substances, such as alcohol, cannabis or cocaine, commonly begins during adolescence. Although many adolescents use it occasionally or abandon it after a while, in other cases disorders may develop due to abuse or dependence on these substances with a high risk of becoming chronic.

4. Dissocial and oppositional defiant disorders

Conduct disorder is an early-onset, less severe variant of antisocial personality disorder. Conduct disorder criteria include the use of physical and verbal violence against people or other animals, theft, destruction of other people’s property or serious violations of parental and academic center rules.

An associated problem is oppositional defiant disorder, which is diagnosed in children and adolescents who disobey adults, have a marked tendency to become angry, and accuse other people of their bad behavior. The diagnostic criteria for these behavioral disorders have been criticized for including ethical value judgments.

5. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder

Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are frequently associated with adolescence and youth, although they can appear at any time in life. Psychosocial factors are currently contributing to a advancement of the average age of onset of these eating disorders in much of the world.

Binge eating disorder is a disorder that falls into the same category and has recently been included in the DSM-5. It is characterized by the presence of episodes of compulsive eating similar to those that occur in bulimia, although it is associated with obesity as compensatory behaviors such as the induction of vomiting are not present.

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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 subside in adolescence and youth, but in the rest they remain throughout adult life. ADHD involves an increase in likelihood of developing addictions, depression, or anxiety disorders.

Since the popularization of the ADHD diagnosis 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, feel great discomfort in situations that involve interaction with other people. This can cause the physical and cognitive symptoms of panic attacks, such as tachycardia and breathing difficulties. In many cases it is due to rejection or bullying.

8. Adaptive and stress disorders

Adjustment disorders are diagnosed when the person presents moderate anxiety or depressive symptoms as a consequence of significant life events. These problems are more common in young people, including adolescents, since they tend to have less effective strategies for coping with stress.

Something similar happens with acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. While the first label is used when the symptoms caused by a traumatic event last less than a month, post-traumatic stress disorder is a more severe and long-lasting variant that carries a high risk of suicide.