Risk factors for mental illnesses in adolescents

Adolescence comes with a lot of changes in boys and girls - puberty, raging emotions and identity formation, social preferences etc. This period usually ranges from the age of 10 to 19. The physical, emotional and social changes that occur in adolescents predispose them to develop mental illnesses.

This period of adolescence comprises a lot of emotional instability which is most times ignored by the parents and the society. According to the WHO globally 10-20% of adolescents in the world experience mental illnesses and more than half of mental illnesses start within the adolescent years, this makes it evident that the mental health of adolescents should be taken very seriously.

Factors that can make an adolescent receptive to mental illnesses

There are a lot of factors that can make an adolescent more predisposed to mental illnesses. These factors may come from the environment and genetics.

Some of these factors include:

1. Genetics- most times, adolescents with relatives that suffer mental illnesses are at a higher risk of also developing mental illnesses. In this case, genes are responsible for the changes in the brain. This is why a family history of mental illness can increase an individual's chances of developing a mental illness. This doesn't necessarily mean that the adolescent will develop the same mental illness as their relative.

2. Prenatal damage - this is any damage that occurs to the child while he or she is still in the womb. These damages may include the use of drugs during pregnancy, infections during pregnancy and so on. These damages can make the child be at significant risk of developing a mental illness as he or she grows.

3. Stress - an adolescent can be at risk of developing mental illnesses due to difficulties that they are faced with daily. For example - bullying at school, academic work, poverty, inadequate living conditions, dysfunctional homes, violence in the environment, Natural disasters, expectations of the society and so on. Although people react or deal with stress differently, being faced with different events that can cause chronic stress can lead to various mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder, depression and so on.

4. Trauma - Trauma is an event or events experienced by a child that causes a threat to their life and causes psychological stress. These events can include sexual and physical abuse, neglect, surviving an accident, experiencing the death of a close relative or friend and so on. All these events can make an adolescent receptive to mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and so on.

5. Identity problems- adolescents that have trouble with forming a sense of self can be at risk of developing mental illnesses.

6. Disease- some research has linked mental illnesses to some infectious diseases; more research is being conducted on this link. Adolescents with chronic conditions may develop anxiety disorders, depression and so on.

7. Substance abuse- during the adolescent years, a lot of individuals begin to use and abuse drugs due to peer pressure. The abuse of drugs causes changes in the functioning of the brain that can lead to mental illnesses.

Anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and so on are among the most common mental illnesses that occur during the adolescent years. According to research, as many as one in every five adolescents meets the criteria for mental illnesses to be diagnosed.

This shows that mental health illnesses in adolescents are a severe and prevalent problem, as such more attention should be paid to early intervention and treatment.



1. https://centerforliving.org/blog/adolescent-mental-health-treatment-risk-factors/

2. https://polaristeen.com/articles/what-causes-mental-illness-adolescence/amp/

3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health


Written by Akinloye Folashade, a psychology graduate from the University of Lagos (Unilag) with a passion for mental health and people with special needs .A mental health advocate looking to educate people on mental health illnesses especially in children and adolescents and help stop stigmatisation against those illnesses.

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