You are on page 1of 2

Sukriti Ghosh

The Teenage Brain and Mental Illness: Whats the connection?



The teenage brain is a complex organ. Its been the source of mystery and
questioning for a long time, but researchers are only now uncovering how unique the
teenage brain is. Unique as it is, the teenage brain can also cause a lot of problems. The
brain is almost fully developed by the age of 6
1
, but the brains circuitry still develops at
this life stage. Because this is a remodeling stage, mental problems are more likely to arise.
2

There has recently been a lot of discussion in the scientific research community
about the connection of teenagers to mental health. For some reason, mental disorders
seem to be more prevalent in teens than in any other age group of people. Even so, the
prevalence of mental disorders in general for all age groups is alarming: 48% of Americans
will get at least one mental disorder in their lifetimes, and 27% of Americans will
experience more than one mental disorder in their lifetimes
3
. However, for adolescents (as
researchers have noticed) these statistics are greatly exaggerated. A famous project titled
the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) surveyed 10,000 American adolescents, asking
them about the state of their mental health. Of the 10,00 adolescents, 31.9% teens had
anxiety disorders, 19.1% had behavioral disorders and 14.3% had mood disorders.
4

Behavioral disorders are characterized by difficulties in maintaining behavior and often
become a problem in educational settings. Mood disorders, such as Depression, render the
patient unable to control their mood, resulting in extreme moods. The most common of
mental disorders, anxiety disorders are characterized by extreme levels of anxiety. Some
anxiety disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and post-
traumatic stress disorder. In general, about one out of four or five adolescents have the
symptoms of a mental disorder.
5

Mental disorders are more prevalent in teenagers because the brains connections
between neurons are developing. The brains axons, the tails of neurons that are
responsible for transmitting signals, are significantly developed during adolescence.
Typically, between the years of 11 to 13 years of age, the brains axons are insulated with
white matter called myelin, which increases signal transmission speed. Other changes to
the other regions of the brain during adolescence such as the synapses, the neurons
dendrites, and the corpus callosum, make the brain an all around more fast and efficient
organ.
6


1
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text
2
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders-in-children-and-adolescents/index.shtml
3
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Comorbidity_Survey
4
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20855043
5
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Comorbidity_Survey

6
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/teenage-brains/dobbs-text


But the brain isnt really good at remodeling. The rewiring of the brain often poses a lot of
problems. Anxiety disorders are often triggered by a traumatic event. When this event
occurs, the brains circuitry is uncontrollable and the neurons fire signals at an alarmingly
fast rate. Usually, a misfire occurs and the brain circuitry becomes fundamentally altered.
The brain becomes rewired differently, and leaves the person extremely anxious all the
time. So while the brain does become faster and more efficient during adolescence, it also
increases the adolescents chance of
experiencing a mental disorder. Mental
disorders are especially common in girls due
girls faster maturation and faster brain
remodeling.
7

However, mental disorders are not due
just to complications in the brain. What makes
diagnosing these types of illnesses so hard is
that there are many factors - environmental,
genetic, and mental- that contribute to the
formation of a mental disorder. However,
researchers have made remarkable headway
into the subjects of the teenage brain and
mental disorders and remain motivated to
figure out the mystery that encompasses these
subjects.
8


7
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders-in-children-and-adolescents/index.shtml
8
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2762785/