Emerging research highlights the challenges modern teens face, how they cope, and the effectiveness of early intervention.
New research offers further insight into the mental health of teenagers, and researchers are discovering that early intervention is critical during adolescence.
Scientists at King’s College London sought to determine how well alcohol therapy worked on teenagers. Instead of yet another D.A.R.E.-like program where messages about the dangers of alcohol are the same for every student, researchers took a more mental health-based approach to this intervention.
They tailored the treatment to each student’s personality, specifically four personality traits that are also risk factors for alcohol use: anxiety sensitivity, hopelessness, impulsivity, and sensation seeking.
Students displaying one or all of these traits were classified as either at high or low risk for future alcohol dependence. A total of 2,548 10th graders in 21 schools in London were evaluated and their drinking habits were then monitored for two years. Of those students, 709 were classified as high-risk and invited to attend two workshops that focused on cognitive-behavioral strategies for coping with their particular personality traits.
In these intervention workshops, teens learned to manage their impulses so they wouldn’t make poor personal choices. This included managing anxiety, pessimism, impulsivity, and aggression.
The schools with intervention programs showed a 29 percent reduction in drinking, a 43 percent drop in binge drinking, and a 29 percent decrease in problem drinking among high-risk students, compared with high-risk students who received no special intervention.
“Our study shows that this mental health approach to alcohol prevention is much more successful in reducing drinking behavior than giving teenagers general information on the dangers of alcohol,” Dr. Patricia Conrod, a lecturer at the King’s Institute of Psychiatry and lead author of the paper, said in a press release.
Dr. Ron J. Steingard, associate medical director of the Child Mind Institute, recently wrote about a jarring disparity: teenage girls are more prone to mood disorders like depression and anxiety than boys in their age group.
Girls are, in fact, twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder. Fourteen to 20 percent of teen girls are diagnosed—the same percentage as adults.
The gender disparity, Steingard argues, could be due to the fact that girls emotionally mature earlier than boys do. This sensitivity could make them more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. Mood disorders like depression, eating disorders, and ADHD, are linked to alcohol and substance abuse, as well as suicide.
For all of these conditions, Steingard recommends the most common form of treatment available: cognitive behavioral therapy. He writes that early intervention is crucial, both to treat the mood disorder and to keep it from affecting the teen’s social and academic life.
Earlier this month, the results of the largest study yet on adolescent mental health showed that about 55 percent of all suicidal teenagers received some type of therapy before they contemplated or tried suicide.
The study linked suicidal tendencies to the most common mood and behavioral problems affecting teens: depression, ADHD, eating disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse.
While the study didn’t address the quality of treatment these teens were getting, mental health professionals conclude that current treatments addressing depression in teens are inadequate.
With all the available evidence, it’s easy to see the impact that quality mental health care could have on an impressionable subset of the population.
For as much pressure as society puts on teens to do well in school, join the workforce, and begin to make decisions that will affect their lives, we should invest in our youth with an emphasis on adolescent mental health. This includes education, providing the right resources, and tailoring therapy to each individual.
If we’re able to provide young people with the proper tools to combat behavioral and mental health problems, we could see lasting results in just one generation.
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