Adolescent angst - does it predict future problems

Teen angst, most of us remember being teenagers and feeling the rising need for independence, the desire to experience life and experiment in areas beyond what our parents and teachers prescribed for us.

For some teenagers, all of this pent up frustration at not quite being adults but still feeling a need for freedom can bring on some angst. Some exhibit this with rebellious behaviour, others become broody and of course many simply express their disdain for the adult world and authority figures.

In truth, adolescence is a tumultuous time, for the teens themselves and their families. Life seems to take on a flair for the dramatic and often leaves parents and teachers shaking their heads.

We've likely all met some teenagers who seem to become morbid during this time. They start to wear black and use imagery surrounding death and dying. Some think a lot about suicide, either as an abstract concept or they talk about it in reference to their own lives.

Obviously this kind of ideation is concerning for parents and other adults and many ask whether it represents normal adolescent angst or if it is the hallmark or predictor of more serious mental health problems.

A recent report in the American Psychiatric Association's journal followed a group of close to 350 children from age five to age 30 and compared those who had suicidal ideation at age 15 with those who did not.

By age 30 there were marked differences between these two groups. Those with adolescent suicidal ideas were twice as likely to have a psychiatric diagnosis and 12 times more likely to have attempted suicide by age 30 as those with no teen suicidal ideation. The first group was also 15 times more likely to have had suicidal ideas in their late 20s.

Self esteem, coping ability and interpersonal skills were also lower among those who had suicidal ideation in their teens. Male subjects in this group had lower salaries and were less likely to have achieved residential independence than those who did not have suicidal thoughts during their adolescence.

All of this suggests that suicidal ideation by teenagers should not be taken lightly. This may very well be a serious indicator of psychological problems that may lead to impaired functioning and ongoing distress later in life.

When a teenager exhibits these kinds of ideas, it is an opportunity for parents and other adult figures to intervene and hopefully prevent more serious problems that could follow the teen into adulthood.

Unfortunately, this may sound easier than it is, adolescents at this age are often the most difficult to reach and can be resistant to seeking help and disdainful of help when it is offered.

But parents and teachers should not give up. It is important to make a serious effort to get the cooperation of the teen and not to simply shrug our shoulders and assume this is just normal adolescent behaviour.

If you are concerned about a teenager in your life, speak with a doctor or counselor for ideas of how to help. Building a relationship of openness and trust is often a good first step and a professional may have some suggestions of local resources that could be of further assistance.

Suicidal ideation at any age is serious.


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