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Brain & Mental Health

The teen years are a struggle for many adolescents as they try to deal with making adult decisions and understanding complex emotions even though their brains have not fully developed. Most teens will make it through these years unscathed, but many will suffer from mild or severe mental health issues.

Brain Development

A child’s brain is fully grown by age 11 for girls and 14 for boys, but it continues to develop and mature for an additional 10 years. The frontal and temporal lobes, which are responsible for judgment and reasoning, are the last to reach maturity. Because the brain is in flux, it can be difficult to determine the difference between normal teen immaturity and the onset of mental health issues.

Mental Health Disorders in Teens

Teens suffer from a variety of mental health disorders that can have serious physical consequences. Untreated mental illness in teens can lead to drug or alcohol abuse, cutting or even suicide. Common mental health disorders seen in teens include:

  • Eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias and agoraphobia

Prevalence

Mental health issues strike more teens than most people expect. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that more than 45 percent of teens will have some type of mental issue, and one in five will suffer from a severe mental disorder. Neither gender is more inclined to develop a mental health disorder, but the prevalence in both disorders does increase later in the teen years. The mental disorders that many children and teens suffer from include:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Mood disorders
  • Major depression
  • Conduct disorders
  • Dysthymia
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorders
  • Generalized anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders

Recognizing the Symptoms

Teens are under a lot of stress, both at home and at school, and they are subject to social pressures from their peers and the media. It is often difficult to distinguish normal teen angst from real mental health issues, but there are some behaviors you can watch out for. These include:

  • Displaying behaviors that interfere with relationships between friends and family
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Feeling overly angry or worried on a frequent basis
  • An inability to let go of grief after a loss
  • Causing other people physical harm or destroying property
  • Participating in very risky behaviors
  • Becoming obsessed with certain activities, including eating, dieting or exercising
  • The belief that someone or something is controlling their thoughts or emotions
  • Inability to feel happiness despite successes and accomplishments

If you think you have any of these symptoms or are worried that you may have mental health issues, talk to your parents, teachers or school counselors.

Stigma

Teens are vulnerable to mental health issues that are transient, one-off problems that may never reoccur. These happen most often due to a major life event, including divorce or the death of a friend or family member. Many teens who may need psychological help to get through a trying period may not pursue the counseling because of a perceived stigma they attach to it. A study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that among adolescents, boys are less willing to seek help from mental health (http://www.teenzeen.org/health-wellness.html) professionals than girls due to social stigmas or parental disapproval.

Reach Out for Support

If you feel that the problems that you’re facing emotionally are too much to handle, talk to someone. If you feel unable to open up right away to your parents, talk to friends, your teacher, a school counselor or even your school nurse. Remember that mental health issues are as common as physical health issues, and learning more about how a professional counselor or therapist can help you is the first step towards achieving good mental health.

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