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Mental Illness in Adolescence: How to identify and prevent it.

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As the adolescent lives a phase of intense biological transformation, symptoms of mental disorders may go unnoticed. Therefore, it is necessary to focus the attention.

Teens are rebellious by nature. This view is common in many families that strive to understand the biological transformations of this phase of life, whose power is capable of making young people unstable and distant from their parents. It is normal for the mood swings of adolescence to soften over time. However, age-related instability can hide symptoms of more serious mental complications, the treatment of which depends essentially on the evolutionary stage of diseases – which makes it essential for parents and educators to pay attention to unusual signs of behavior in children and adolescents. The symptoms in question can often resemble normal adolescent behavioral variations – such as periods of isolation, sharp self-reference (when the young person thinks it is the cause of all the events around him) and changes in school performance. However, these changes tend to be much more intense and constant than those caused by hormonal variation in age.

“It is common, in adolescence, that the individual gives more preference to the company of friends than to living with parents, and this should not be seen as a worrying change in behavior. But, in the case of mental illness, the young person begins to isolate socially, or can join other teenagers with problems. The drop in school performance and low self-esteem are also important indicators of disorders. The sooner the diagnosis is made, the better the prognosis. We have already noticed a symptom record from the age of five. Ideally, treatment should start as soon as the disease is detected.”

From pleasure to addiction

Psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol is a mental disorder that often leads to chemical dependency. Therefore, distinguishing the moment when the young person starts to depend psychologically on a certain substance is fundamental.

Psychological addiction may or may not happen in conjunction with the physical addiction to the drug, and causes act not consistent with the adolescent’s previous normal behavior – such as lying or stealing. His view of the environment also changes: he loses interest in hobbies or old friends, and starts to see drugs as the solution to his problems or as the center of all his activities – going through peaks of anxiety and depression. Physical symptoms include changes in sleep, appetite and signs of withdrawal syndrome (malaise, shaking) when you stay away from drugs for a long time.

Symptom analysis must hit the target

Some of the mental disorders diagnosed in childhood and adolescence are depression, neurosis, phobias and, to a lesser extent, schizophrenia. Although most diseases are the result of genetic propensity, they can be aggravated or triggered by situations of pressure in the home or school environment. Badly received changes in the child’s daily life can generate disorders such as stress or phobias, or trigger more serious conditions of diseases such as depression or schizophrenia. Among the factors that can potentiate the genetic propensity of mental illnesses, also include the consumption of alcohol and drugs.

“The tendency to use drugs can, in itself, be pathological, or induce psychotic episodes. Psychiatrists in Islamabad explain that mental illnesses are also, in turn, strong stimulating factors for drug use. “Twenty to thirty percent of young people entering drugs are related to depression.”

The instability of the family environment or the influence of external factors, such as drug use, can make the early diagnosis of mental illnesses even more difficult – since the young person does not feel close enough to the family to expose their difficulties. Therefore, it is important to cultivate close observation and a good constant relationship with the child or adolescent, so that the problem can be detected before there is an irreversible change in the young person’s affective or cognitive behavior. “Because the psyche has not yet formed, and it is more difficult to diagnose the disease precisely in children, since they do not present complaints and do not, in the case of schizophrenia, have the capacity to build delusions, like the adult”.

“The schizophrenic child is isolated and the symptoms can be easily confused with depression”. It draws attention to the danger of misdiagnosis. “Antidepressant medications increase the level of serotonin in the body, while drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia decrease serotonin. Thus, incorrect medicines end up potentiating the patient’s symptoms and can even induce suicide ”. Adequate and early diagnosis also favor greater alternatives for treating diseases. “As it still has a psychological structure in training, the child offers a larger therapeutic space, because one can work with various types of non-verbal language until an ideal level of communication with the patient is reached”. “However, our responsibility to the patient is also greater, as it exerts a greater influence on the psychological formation of the child”.

Realizing Depression

Sadness, melancholy or bad mood are normal feelings in adolescence. However, when these feelings last for weeks or months and start to affect the child’s normal life, they can be signs of depression. Depression is caused by several factors, including low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain – the result of genetic inheritance, triggered by some significant event such as the death of a close relative, divorce from parents, change of residence or even stress. Chronic illnesses or medications can also lead to depression.

Among the symptoms of the disease are: sadness for no apparent reason; lack of courage for simple tasks; loss of interest in activities previously appreciated; isolation from family and friends; peaks of irritability, anger or anxiety; difficulty concentrating; lack or excess of appetite; difficulty falling asleep or waking up; guilt; pain for no apparent physical reason; lack of interest in the future; frequent thoughts around the idea of ​​death or suicide.

If the disease is confirmed, the parents’ reassuring presence in the treatment aid is essential – although depression is the leading cause of suicide among young people, 80% of cases find effective treatment through the combination of therapy and drugs prescribed by the psychiatrist.

Search evolution

The power of therapeutic intervention in the face of the earliest symptoms, already proven by medical experience, will now be more fully measured through a study of global dimensions that will start in 2001. The research will analyze, for five years, 1200 adolescents with a propensity to develop the disease, in 20 different countries. “With this study, we hope to identify the really early symptoms, which appear two or three years before the effective appearance of the disease, and confirm whether the previous therapeutic intervention is really capable of stopping the process”. The first phase of the research, which is expected to take two years, focuses on the study of the clinical manifestations of the disease. Thereafter, drugs already on the market will be administered and the degree of patient response will be observed. “Young people with a family history of schizophrenia are ten times more likely to develop the disease. Outstanding performance rates on cognitive tests are also strong ‘clues’ in detecting the disorder, ”he explains.

The study aims to establish elements of diagnosis of schizophrenia in patients aged between 15 and 18 years (the average time of onset of schizophrenia occurs between 18 and 20 years of age). With early diagnosis, the chances of controlling and reversing the condition also increase. “Ideally, we should have diagnostic techniques capable of understanding and treating these disorders as early as possible. The medicine must learn to fight mental illness at an earlier age, ”adds the psychiatrist.

Stress is also a child’s thing

The accumulation of tasks, added to the physical changes common in adolescence, can cause stress at a level equal to or greater than that caused by the obligations of adult life. Chronic stress is sometimes confused with physical malaise, as it can trigger feelings such as stomach pains, headaches or muscle pain. Other symptoms are: diarrhea or indigestion, back pain, insomnia, changes in appetite, irritability, anxiety, crying spells or great frustration about minor things.

Among the effective ways to combat stress are physical exercises, contact with friends in recreational activities, extracurricular activities such as music or theater and social activities such as volunteering. During study or intense work, breaks for breathing and relaxation of muscles and spine are also effective. Relaxing about your own goals and relativizing issues are also important measures in stressful situations. It is a fundamental measure to combat tension and maintain good health: always stay away from drinks, tobacco or drugs.

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