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How Severe Mental Illness Can Impact Teens and Young Adults

Photo: Courtesy of Tiago Bandeira

More teens and young adults than ever are facing challenges related to their mental health. In a recent survey of U.S. college students, 37 percent reported being diagnosed with a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime, the highest percentage since at least 2007. And while conversations typically focus on the very real experiences of depression and anxiety associated with today’s youth and young adults, we cannot overlook those affected by less familiar conditions, such as severe mental illness.

Psychotic disorders

First-episode psychosis, a term used to describe when someone first exhibits signs of severe mental illness and begins to lose touch with reality, affects approximately 100,000 adolescents and young adults each year. Symptoms most often present themselves in the teens through mid-20s, and can include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or disorganized speech. For teens and young adults who may be attending school away from home and navigating adulthood for the first time, these experiences can feel particularly confusing, disorienting, and scary.  

Individuals with psychotic disorders are also at a high risk for suicide, with evidence suggesting the risk increases by as much as 60 percent during the early stages of the illness. These statistics illustrate just how important it is to seek and continue treatment when someone displays symptoms of psychosis or is first diagnosed with a severe mental illness.

Lack of treatment

However, youth and young adults diagnosed with schizophrenia are not receiving adequate treatment in the first year following their diagnosis. According to new research, at least one in five of the studied patients did not receive outpatient mental health services, and barely one in three filled a prescription for antipsychotic medication, an important element of early intervention.

Reasons for hope

Experiencing severe mental illness, on top of the existing stressors of young adult life, can feel like an uphill battle. But there is hope. With early intervention and proper care coordination between individuals, families, schools, and health care providers, recovery is possible and attainable.

Treatment Advocacy Center, [email protected]

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