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Understanding mental health is not always easy. For example, are we just in the midst of an emotionally upsetting situation and experiencing the blues, or is it depression? Is our sudden anti-social behavior due to a recent negative social experience, or is it social anxiety disorder? Sorting out a bump in the road from a serious emotional problem is sometimes challenging.
Emotional problems often look different between teens and adults. Mental health issues can take a slightly different form depending on age and developmental maturity. Teens haven’t yet mastered their coping skills, and their brains are still developing the executive functions like emotion regulation and decision-making. When we observe our teen exhibiting signs of psychological distress it is helpful to know the symptoms of such common mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.
In almost all cases of mental health disorders, versus a temporary set of emotional responses to a recent upsetting event, the symptoms will persist for a period of time. It is a sign of a mental health disorder if, over the weeks that the symptoms are present they are also accompanied by impaired daily function. When the signs and symptoms of a mental health challenge are recognized, whether in an adult or a teen, it is essential to follow through with a mental health professional.
Recognizing Emotional Problems
Signs of mental distress may not always be obvious to others. Some people go to great lengths to hide their emotional problems from others, thinking it will draw attention to themselves, or to cause them to appear weak. Others, however, may exhibit obvious signs of a mental health disorder. It is helpful to know what kinds of signs might indicate a need for psychological evaluation.
Signs of emotional distress might include:
- Feeling overwhelmed most of the time. Unable to stay on task, feeling panic about not being able to finish tasks, trouble staying focused.
- Chronic sleep disturbance, insomnia, nightmares.
- Exhibit symptoms of extreme anxiety, such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, trembling, lightheadedness, nausea, sweating.
- Severe mood swings, alternating extreme mania or depression.
- Impairment. Unable to fulfill daily responsibilities.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Substance abuse.
- Feeling hopeless, despairing, and negative.
- Personal or workspace becomes cluttered, disorganized, chaotic when this is not the norm.
- Engaging in high-risk activities, impulsive behaviors, such as promiscuous or unprotected sex, driving under the influence, or gambling.
- Loss of appetite, sudden weight loss when not trying to diet.
- Increased absenteeism from school or work.
- Neglecting personal hygiene, grooming, or general appearance.
- Delusional thoughts.
- Auditory or visual hallucinations.
- Lack of motivation, malaise.
- Difficulty paying attention, memory problems.
- Paranoid thinking.
- Isolating or withdrawing from friends and family, avoiding social events, loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed.
- Becoming violent towards others, angry outbursts, agitation, short temper.
- Becoming obsessed with death, suicide ideation, or self-harming behaviors.
When it becomes evident that someone has serious emotional problems it is critical to have him or her assessed by a mental health professional. The therapist or psychiatrist will conduct an interview, review mental health history, order a physical exam, and use assessment tools and the DSM-5 to help them arrive at a diagnosis.
Treatment for a mental health condition will initially be provided through the use of psychotherapy and medications. Group support is also available, in which a group of individuals who share a common mental health disorder discuss their personal experiences living with a mental health challenge. A therapist might also encourage the individual in their care to include regular exercise in their weekly routine, due to the significant mental health benefits that exercise provides.
Common Mental Health Disorders in Teens
These are some of the more common mental health conditions seen in adolescents:
Panic disorder. Panic disorder is different from panic attacks. Panic disorder features the same physical response as a panic attack, such as shaking, sweating, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and chest pain but is not related to a specific event. Teens with panic disorder may be so afraid of experiencing the attacks in spublic that they begin to isolate, missing out on social events and school.
Social anxiety. Teens with social anxiety have an intense and irrational fear of being judged or ridiculed publicly. When they must participate in a academic or social event they begin to exhibit such symptoms as nausea, sweating, shaking or trembling, shallow breathing, and headache. Teens who struggle with social anxiety tend to avoid all such events, missing out on extracurricular activities, social events, and opportunities to excel academically.
Depression. A depressive episode in teens may be triggered by a stressful life event, such as being bullied at school or on social media, a traumatic experience such as physical or sexual assault or abuse, divorce, declining academic performance, or loss of a loved one. Symptoms include lack of interest in usual activities, withdrawing from friends and family, irritability, sleep problems, loss of energy, being highly critical of themselves, drop in grades, excessive school absences, somatic complains like headache or stomachache, significant weight loss or gain, signs of suicidal ideation.
Oppositional defiance disorder. ODD features negative and disruptive behaviors such as hostility, defiance, angry outbursts, rejecting authority, verbal aggression, and generally is uncooperative and argumentative. ODD often co-occurs with ADHD, anxiety, learning disorders, and depression. ODD can lead to trouble at school, academic failure, and problems with the law.
Self-harm. Rather than a mental health disorder, self-harming behavior is actually related to anxiety disorder. Teens resort to self-harm as a coping technique when feeling a lack of control over their lives, or a need to release feelings of emotional pain. It can also be a maladaptive response to depression or anxiety. Self-injury may involve cutting, burning, scratching, biting, causing contusions, or head banging.
Common Mental Health Disorders in Adults
The number of American adults who experience emotional problems is higher than one might think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 20% of adults in struggle with a mental health disorder. Many people who need treatment never pursue help, due to perceived stigma, lack of insurance, denial, or fear of treatment. This is unfortunate, as the majority of mental health conditions are manageable with medication and psychotherapy. The most common mental health disorders among adults include:
Anxiety. Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition, with approximately 40 million people experiencing some form of anxiety disorder each year. There are different types of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobia, panic disorder, and anxiety-related disorders like PTSD and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Depression. Approximately 17.3 million Americans suffer from a depressive disorder each year. The most common form of depression is major depressive disorder, but there are other types of depression as well. These include post-partum depression, seasonal affective disorder, dysthymia, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a complex and serious mental health disorder. It features extreme mood swings that alternate between mania and depression. There are four types of bipolar disorder, including bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, and otherwise unspecified bipolar.
Personality disorders. Someone with a personality disorder has developed lasting patterns of disordered thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Personality disorders tend to emerge in late adolescence into early adulthood. The most common personality disorders include antisocial personality, paranoid personality, borderline personality, narcissistic personality, and avoidant personality.
Dual diagnosis. A dual diagnosis is the presence of two diagnosable disorders, such as a mental health disorder and a co-occurring substance use disorder. The disorders may appear in either order. Each disorder makes the other more pronounced, which leads to a more serious outcome. Common dual diagnoses include depression and alcohol use disorder, anxiety and benzodiazepine addiction, and bipolar and alcohol use disorder.
Residential Treatment for Emotional Problems in Adults or Teens
The residential mental health treatment option is appropriate for individuals who are experiencing declining emotional health while being treated through outpatient providers. A residential program is beneficial in these instances, as the individual is able to detach from daily life and focus entirely on treatment and healing. These residential treatment programs undertake a very thorough intake and evaluation process, allowing the clinical team to design a customized treatment plan that addresses not only the diagnosis but also the unique features of an individual’s mental health challenge. Residential programs are intensive and provide 24-hour support and monitoring. Many of these programs also offer acute stabilization services for psychiatric emergencies.
When seeking mental health treatment for either a teen or an adult it is important to know that there is a difference in the treatment protocols. Adult residential mental health centers will focus on medication, psychotherapy, and adjunctive activities. Teen residential mental health programs will be weighted toward psychotherapy and experiential therapies, although medication may also be incorporated into the treatment plan. Teen programs will also have academic support provided, such as tutors and school liaisons that help them stay on track with their studies during treatment.
The Treatment Specialist Provides Information About Mental Health Treatment
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource for informative articles on mental health conditions and treatment options for adults, teens, and families. For more information and guidance please contact the team at (866) 644-7911.