Mental Health Development During Childhood and Adolescence

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  • 0:05 Human Development
  • 1:19 Psychosis in Adolescence
  • 3:38 Early Onset Bipolar Disorder
  • 5:49 Mental Illness Across…
  • 7:16 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Some mental illnesses can show up at any point in a person's life, but some first occur during specific stages of lifespan development. In this lesson, we'll look closer at some disorders that appear in childhood, adolescence, and old age.

Human Development

Kara is 13. She's always been a little different from other kids. She doesn't show as much emotion, and she moves awkwardly. But recently, something else has started happening. She's started hearing things. At first, her parents just thought she had an imaginary friend, but Kara now spends almost all her time talking and responding to voices that no one else can hear. It's obvious to the people around her that there's something wrong with Kara. But, why are her symptoms getting worse now?

Mental illness, like height and weight, develops and changes throughout a person's life. And, like height and weight, psychological disorders often first become very pronounced in adolescence or late childhood. Many psychologists study human development, or the way people change and grow psychologically throughout their lives. Particular attention is paid to psychological disorders that first become prevalent in childhood or adolescence, as well as disorders that show up in old age. Let's look closer at some psychological disorders that begin to show up in childhood, adolescence and old age.

Psychosis in Adolescence

Remember Kara? She's always had very little emotion, and she has issues with movement. Lately, she's also been hearing voices. Kara might be suffering from early onset schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder that involves auditory hallucinations, delusions and other symptoms. Schizophrenia usually becomes obvious in the late teens or twenties, but sometimes children and adolescents can be diagnosed with it. When the disorder affects someone younger than 18, it is called 'early onset.'

Schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis are relatively rare and even more so in people under the age of 18. Approximately 1 in 100 adults have schizophrenia, but the number for children and adolescents is more like 1 in 40,000.

But, even though a diagnosis of early onset schizophrenia is rare, adults diagnosed with schizophrenia often showed warning signs when they were young. For example, children might show little emotion or show emotion at inappropriate times, like laughing during a serious conversation. Schizophrenic adults were also usually awkward or uncoordinated in their movements as children.

Finally, adolescents, in particular, often show early signs of disordered thinking, which includes being unable to follow a train of thought, losing track of what they were saying or spacing out in the middle of a sentence and jumping around from thought to thought.

Despite the fact that schizophrenia is usually not diagnosed until the twenties, early intervention increases the chances that a patient will be able to lead a happy and productive life. The problem is that the symptoms that show up early in life can be a sign of many other diseases, like autism or movement disorders.

Since psychotic disorders usually run in families, children who show warning signs and have a family history of psychosis are often diagnosed with early onset of a disorder. For example, if Kara has an aunt with schizophrenia, she's more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than if there is no family history of psychosis. This helps doctors start treatment early, which can help patients like Kara tremendously.

Early Onset Bipolar Disorder

Kara carpools with a boy named Max, who is 11. He has some of the same symptoms as Kara. He either doesn't show any emotion at all or he shows inappropriate emotions. Max sometimes also has emotional outbursts that seem to be out of proportion to whatever caused them. For example, when a stoplight turned red and their carpool driver had to stop and wait, Max threw a temper fit, screaming and kicking the seat in front of him.

But then, Max will sometimes show very little emotion. He'll act very tired and complain that his stomach hurts. He seems to go back and forth between being ho-hum about everything and being really emotional.

Max might be suffering from early onset bipolar disorder, a mood disorder that involves swinging between depressed and manic states. Like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder is usually first diagnosed in a person's late teens or twenties. And, like schizophrenia, some people (like Max) can be diagnosed with early onset bipolar disorder.

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