Adolescent psychopathology is the study of the mental disorders affecting those in the developmental period of growth and maturity occuring between childhood and adulthood. This stage of development is accompanied by a series of predictable changes. Psychologists see these natural changes as dividing lines that break adolescence down .
Those who research adolescent psychopathology hope to glean greater understanding of the mental and behavioral disorders that occur during adolescence, the period that begins with puberty and ends roughly at age 19. Scientists work toward uncovering more about the manifestations of these disorders, their origins and how they develop. Researchers are also focused on discovering how physical changes impact emotional development at this time, and how this might contribute to mental and behavioral disorders.
There is a great deal of study focused on the pervasiveness of bipolar disorder and manic symptoms in adolescent psychiatric patients. Bipolar disorder is most common during the late teen and adult years and tends to manifest as a chronic, lifelong disorder, involving severe mood swings.
Another field of interest in adolescent psychopathology is the prevalence of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in which the patient is obsessed with a perception of bodily defect. The adolescent may complain of several such defects or just one. The obsession may concern a single feature or a vague impression of flawed general appearance. The patient suffers great emotional and mental distress because of the perceived flaw and finds it hard to function in social and occupational endeavors. There may be accompanying symptoms of severe depression, anxiety and social withdrawal.
Researchers are also involved in the study of adolescent suicide. Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents. Suicidal thoughts and feelings often accompany depression in adolescents. A specific related concern involves finding alternative treatments for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)-resistant depression in this age group.
Depression in teens is often a response to stressors and stressful situations. In general, the process of maturation is stressful. The influence of sex hormones is also a contributing factor in depression. Adolescent girls face twice the risk of depression as their male counterparts. A teen with a family history of depression is at a greater risk for depression.
Adolescence is a time of turbulence and instability for most but can also be a time of great dynamism and productivity. This is the time during which young people learn critical thinking, become aware that they are sexual beings, hone their identities and work toward the attainment of full independence from parental control.
The process of growing into adulthood is characterized by experimentation and risky behavior that can spiral out of control. Psychologist G. Stanley Hall labeled this period of development a time of "storm and stress." Hall felt that conflict is a natural, normal part of adolescence.
Most adolescents begin to spend more time away from family members and prefer the company of their peers. It is a period of intense communication in which a third of each 24-hour period is spent in conversation. It is estimated, however, that adolescents spend only 8 percent of this time in conversation with adults. Most adolescents report that they feel happy when they spend time with their peers, less so when spending time with adults.
As the adolescent draws away from the primary adults in their lives -- their parents -- reduced communication can lead to differences of opinion and conflict between them. This developmental process is an effort toward creating a separation of self between child and parent and represents the striving of the adolescent toward a sense of liberation from childhood. Communication between adolescents and their parents may become strained. Peer pressure is a constant and can lead to unsafe and even criminal behavior.
It is difficult for parents of adolescents to distinguish between normal adolescent behavior and symptoms of disorder. It may be hard to delineate normal from inappropriate behavior since this period of development is distinguished by erratic behavior and conflict. Destructive behavior, on the other hand, is a clear sign of mental or emotional distress.
Teens are prone to issues of low self-esteem, which can lead to such self-destructive behaviors as drug or alcohol abuse and unprotected sex. Eating disorders and depression are common hazards facing adolescents.
Some of the warning signs that a teen may be spiraling into dangerous emotional territory include agitation or restlessness, weight fluctuations, dropping grades, difficulty concentrating and ongoing sadness. Other signs of possible emotional distress include apathy, a lack of motivation, loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, poor self-esteem, insomnia and criminal behavior.