Did you know that young adults are still experiencing cognitive development from the ages of 18 to 29?
You may think that once you’re out of high school, you’re finished growing up. Physically, you’re probably as tall as you will ever get, and from this point forward, you may remain the same overall size throughout much of your adult life.
Whether you head off to college or out to make your own way in the world, you will likely gain a great deal of independence at this point in life, moving away from your parents and beginning to take care of yourself. While you still have a lot to learn, you probably feel like the development process is over.
Mentally, however, as a young adult, you’re still not fully grown. This is one of the reasons why mental illness can present at this time of life.
Brain Development for Young Adults
Most people are familiar with the developmental stage of adolescence. The independence of relying more on peers than on parents for the first time, the angst of finding one’s own identity while belonging to a social group, and the inhibitions and poor decision-making are legendary parts of the teen years.
What most people don’t realize, however, is that this phase of brain development does not stop at age 18. The part of the brain that controls impulses and plans and organizes behavior to reach a goal will continue to develop into the mid-twenties. For most people, at age 18, this growth process is only half over.
The brains of adolescents have heightened reward systems that also remain active several years beyond their eighteenth birthday. This increased sensitivity is what drives adolescents to be highly emotional and incredibly sensitive to peer pressure. Throughout their twenties, they continue to seek out new, potentially pleasurable experiences without regard for the risks.
The changes that take place in the brain during the early twenties affect how new experiences and new pieces of information are synthesized. This brain growth tends to coincide with a loosening of parental controls, and possibly the freedom of attending college. The types of experiences, both good and bad, a young adult encounters can significantly shape brain development in this stage, potentially presenting as mental illness.
First Signs of Mental Illness in Young Adults
Mental illness encompasses a wide variety of disorders that exist on a severity continuum. Some can be temporary responses to crisis or other experiences, while others are chronic conditions. Mental illnesses have various causes and triggers. The stigma of mental illness in this country is fading as more and more people discover they have some sort of mental illness, and that their lives can be improved by treatment.
Common Mental Health Disorders
Mental illnesses are generally grouped into these categories:
- Eating Disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating)
- Personality Disorders (antisocial, paranoia, borderline personality disorder)
- Addiction (alcohol, opioids, tobacco)
- Mood Disorders (major depressive disorder, bipolar disorders, cyclothymia)
- Thought Disorders (schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional)
- Anxiety Disorders (social anxiety, phobias, generalized anxiety)
- Developmental Disorders (autism spectrum disorders, ADHD)
While some of these mental illnesses can present and be diagnosed in childhood, many cannot be diagnosed until adolescence or even later. Personality disorders, for example, cannot be confirmed until the personality is more fully formed. Addiction does not usually develop in childhoodbecause adults control the substances children have access to. Eating disorders also tend to develop during adolescence or later, because that’s when you gain full control of your eating habits.
Young adults are at a particularly vulnerable time in their development, which might explain why one out of every five is affected by mental illness. Mental illnesses that commonly present in young adults include:
- Bipolar Disorder
Young adults are completing a transition in their mental state that is marked by heightened emotions and turmoil. When you add the sort of changes they are likely going through in their lives at the same time, it’s easy to see why mental illness may present at this time.
In their early twenties, most people leave their parents’ house for the first time to go to college or get their first apartment. They are under increased pressure to succeed academically, financially, and socially. Some move back home after college, while others move away from families and support systems to begin new jobs.
All of this change, while exciting, is definitely stressful. Given the right conditions, stress can trigger mental illness.
Managing Symptoms of Mental Illness in Young Adults
If you’re a parent, you might tend to feel helpless once your children have moved out or gone off to college. You can no longer protect them from many of the dangers in the world. When it comes to mental illness, though, you can make a big difference by recognizing the signs and knowing when to seek help for your child.
Symptoms of mental illness in young adults include:
- Substance abuse
- Isolation, or being “a loner”
- Antisocial behavior
- Confused thinking
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts
- Excessive anxiety
- Unexplained physical ailments
- Changes in sleep patterns – staying up all night or sleeping all day
- Changes in appetite or diet
- Impulsive behavior – particularly in terms of travel, spending money, or sexual relationships
A lot of these signs may seem like normal parts of your teen or young adult’s personality. Often, young adults exhibit these behaviors as a natural part of the transition their brains and lives are going through. But as a parent, you know your child better than anyone. If you notice him or her exhibiting behaviors that are unusual, it may be worth a conversation.
Only a qualified, certified licensed therapist can truly diagnose a mental illness, but you may be able to identify some warning signs and involve a professional sooner rather than later. One of the problems with detecting a mental issue is that the person experiencing it may not be helpful to you. They may not notice the warning signs themselves, or they may want to hide them rather than face the problem and get help.
Ignoring the signs of mental illness is one of the worst things you can do. If your college-aged child is exhibiting unusual behavior, do not hesitate to talk with them about it. There’s no shame in suspecting the behavior could be a sign of a mental illness. Getting professional advice will calm your fears and help you develop a treatment strategy, if one is needed.
Mental illness in young adults can often be treated more effectively when it’s identified early. With some professional guidance, conditions like depression and anxiety that are triggered by the increased stress of college life can be managed.
But you definitely need a professional therapist to diagnose the condition and prepare a strategy for treatment. If there is a more serious underlying condition, a mental health professional can help you deal with that, as well.
Results of Cognitive Treatment for Young Adults
Most young adults with a mental illness can learn to successfully manage their symptoms and enjoy meaningful lives in their communities. Many young adults with a mental illness can finish college, enter the workforce, or contribute to causes they care about through volunteering. Effective professional treatment can help improve relationships young adults have with their parents, siblings, and friends.
Receiving a mental health diagnosis is difficult, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams or plans for your future. With the right treatment and support, young adults can enjoy healthy, happy futures.
We are always here to help the people residing in McKinney, Plano, Dallas, Denton, Allen, Garland, and the surrounding communities found throughout Texas. If you believe that you, your friend, or for parents with young adult children, is in the midst of experiencing mental health challenges, please contact our certified therapist team at Foundations Counseling today.