Critical Issues in Adolescence: The Problem of Psychological Disorders

Introduction and Definitions

Adolescence in human beings and other nonhuman primates is a time when widespread transformations occur in physiological, emotional, social and biological systems and behavior. The fundamental machinery of these coordinated transformations of teenage years is of prehistoric origin, and is importantly universal to all mammalian species (Hamburg & Takanishi, 1989, p. 825).

Its occurrence and characteristics can be customized, however, by a wide range of factors that includes environmental and social influences. Undeniably, in human species, recent technological advancements have considerably changed the experience and understanding of adolescence, making it more challenging and difficult than ever before. It is the purpose of this paper to critically analyze how psychological disorders affect the physical, cognitive and emotional development of adolescents in contemporary times.

According to Wolman (1998), “…adolescence is a period of normal maladjustment” (p. 4). It is a critical phase of development where an individual is neither a child nor an adult. Although this phase of individual development is generally divided into several stages, there exist a general consensus among experts that individuals in this phase experience biological, social, cognitive, psychological and physiological changes that directs them to reappraise their own selves and their associations to their friends, families and communities (Hamburg & Takanishi, 1989, p. 826).

In nearly all civilizations, the adolescent years are known to be the years of continued conflicts and intricacies between the social responsibilities of childhood and adulthood. It is during this stage that the young adults adopt self-damaging activities and behavior patterns, inevitably ruining their prospects for the future or destroying their life in totality (Hamburg & Takanishi, 1989, p. 826).

Most contemporary adolescents are in essence biologically mature, and are inclined to act as adults. However, their socio-cultural development and orientation does not in any way prepare them for adult life. As such, many adolescents tend to develop psychological disorders immediately after they get initiated into this phase of individual development.

Explaining Psychological Disorders

A psychological disorder can be defined as a constellation of behavioral or psychological symptoms that create considerable distress or impairment in multiple areas of life for the individual experiencing such symptoms (Wolman, 1998, p. 72). It is imperative to note that psychological disorders are synonymous to mental disorders.

Some individuals in the adolescent stage of life exhibit symptoms of psychological imbalances and disorders that undoubtedly affect their physical, cognitive and emotional development. Systematic studies have revealed that females in this developmental phase exhibit higher levels of psychological disorders than males. Available statistics puts prevalence levels for female adolescents at between 7.7% and 32.9%, and that of adolescent males at 5.5% to 21.6% (James, Lawlor & Sofroniou, 2004, p. 11).

The issue of psychological disorders is a grave one since most experts are in agreement that psychological problems in adolescence lead to a bigger disposition to psychological problems in adulthood. Below, the focus will be on how psychological disorders in adolescence affect physical, cognitive and emotional domains of development.

Physical Development

Experts believe that psychological disorders witnessed during adolescence are to blame for a host of problems that affect the physical development and wellbeing of adolescents. Psychological disorders have been known to trigger eating disorders, some “complex illnesses that affect adolescents with increasing frequency” (Kreipe et al, 2009, para. 1).

According to the authors, eating disorders is rated as the third most persistent disease in adolescent females, with a prevalence rate of up to 5%. There exist two major subgroups of the eating disorders – anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. In the former, food intake is severely restricted while in the latter; individuals engage in binge eating episodes, and latter try to curtail the consequences of their acts through vomiting or fasting.

Available literature reveals that eating disorders affects every aspect of physical development of adolescents, including vital organs (Kreipe et al, 2009, para. 5). Indeed, some physical complications arising from eating disorders are potentially irreversible.

These include growth retardation, puberty delay and impaired attainment of peak bone mass that normally comes “during the second decade of life…increasing the risk of osteoporosis in adulthood” (Kreipe et al, 2009, para. 6). Eating disorders also interfere with the achievement of developmental tasks essential to become a normal, healthy functioning adult. Consequently, it is clear that psychological disorders directly affect physical development and wellbeing of adolescents.

Cognitive Development

Psychological disorders negatively affect the cognitive development of individuals, including adolescents. Cognition can be defined as the art of thinking, concept comprehension, problem solving, general intelligence and information processing (Wolman, 1998, p. 62).

It is a well known fact that some psychological disorders such as alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and substance use disorders (SUDs) directly interferes with the cognitive development of adolescents (Thatcher & Clarke, 2008, p. 168). In normal circumstances, the decision making processes of adolescents is not in any way inferior to that of adults.

When normal adolescents are called upon to make reasoned contributions using conceptual processes, they generally score as well as adults. However, epidemiological studies have revealed that adolescents with psychological disorders are unable to actively engage in abstract processes due to inadequacies in their cognitive faculties (Clark et al, 1998, p. 81).

Such cognitively challenged adolescents are known to engage more in risk-taking behaviors than their normal counterparts. Indeed, some risk-taking behaviors such as binge drinking and contraceptive use – direct products of psychological disorders – directly impacts on the cognitive development of adolescents (Steinberg, 2007, p. 55).

Some psychological disorders completely impede the normal growth and functioning of cognitive faculties of memory, problem solving, decision making and perception (Clark et al, 1998, p. 88). This leads the individual to function at a subnormal cognitive capacity.

According to the authors, some of these disorders that completely alter the normal cognitive development of an individual include Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, Amnesia and Delirium. Consequently, it is safe to assume that psychological disorders are partly to blame for the rising number of adolescents with cognitive inadequacies.

Emotional Development

The process of emotional development continues throughout the developmental phase of adolescence. As a matter of fact, emotions have often been used as a reference point to this challenging phase in life. For some people, the developmental transformations associated with this phase invoke pictures and images of adolescents that are always moody and negative.

Whereas this may not be the case for a majority of adolescents, a considerable percentage find themselves in this state due to psychological disorders. Acute forms of psychological disorders have been known to cause disruptive behavior disorders due to stunted emotional development (Steinberg, 2007, p. 170).

Adolescents who fail to develop their emotional faculties at the right time due to psychological problems have a greater predisposition to develop mood disorders in adulthood (Wolman, 1998, p. 77).

This is a serious situation in that not only do such adolescents fail to establish social relationships with their peers in adolescence, but they also fail to establish stable family relationships later on in life. Systematic studies have revealed that couples suffering from characteristic mood swings are more likely to encounter family breakups than normal couples (Clark, 1998, p. 87).

Some of the mood disorders directly related to stunted emotional development includes bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. Schizophrenia, an emotional condition characterized by a series of illusions, thought disorders, emotional disturbances and fantasies, is closely associated to psychological impairment.

Conclusion

Given the disastrous yoke of failure, sickness, suffering, and the costs embedded in governments regarding the problem of teenagers, it is surprising that the issues discussed above are not given the attention they deserve by all stakeholders.

Today, a considerable percentage of adolescents have become completely subdued owing to the problem of psychological disorders which has far-reaching impacts. From the discussion above, it is clear that some of the situations occasioned by psychological disorders to the physical, cognitive and emotional development of teenagers are completely irreversible.

Other conditions such as eating disorders and cognitive inadequacies are life threatening. In the light of this, it should be the duty of all concerned to ensure that favorable frameworks and policies are enacted to protect adolescents from any more decadence arising from psychological disorders.

Reference List

Clark, D.B., Neighbors, B.D., Lesnick, L.A., Lynch, K.G., & Donovan, J.E. (1998). Family functioning and adolescent alcohol use disorders. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 81-92

Hamburg, D.A., & Takanishi, R. (1989). Preparing for life: The critical transition of adolescence. American Psychologist, Vol. 44, No. 5, pp. 825-827

James, D., Lawler, M., & Sofroniou, N. (2004). Persistence of psychological problems in adolescence: a one year follow-up study. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 11-17.

Kreipe, R.E., Goldnen, N.H., Katzman, D.K., Fisher, M., Rees, J., Tonkin, R.S., Silber,

T.J., Sigman, G., Schebendach, J., Ammerman, S., & Hoberman, H.M. (2009). Eating disorders is adolescents: principles of diagnosis and treatment. Pediatric Child Health, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 189-192. Retrieved 7 December 2009

Steinberg, L. (2007). Risk taking in adolescence: New perspectives from brain and behavioral science. Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 55-59

Thatcher, D.L., & Clarke, D.B. (2008). Adolescents at risk for substance use disorders:
Role of psychological dysregulation, endophenotypes, and environmental influences. Alcohol Research and Health, Vol. 31, Issue 2, p. 168-176

Wolman, B.B. (1998). Adolescence: biological and psychological perspectives. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN: 0313303118

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