Adolescence, Stress and Your Mental Health

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Everyone who is in or has been through adolescence knows it is full of land mines called hormones, peer pressure, and identity confusion.

For people with risk factors for mental illness, research at Johns Hopkins has shown that successfully navigating teenage years depends on having adequate social connections and support from family members, friends, teachers, and other mentors.

“We’ve shown in mice that stress in adolescence can affect the expression of a gene that codes for a key neurotransmitter related to mental function and psychiatric illness,” said lead researcher Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D. “While many genes are believed to be involved in the development of mental illness, my gut feeling is environmental factors are critically important to the process.”

The Study in a Nutshell

  • When healthy adolescent mice were isolated from other mice for three weeks, their behavior was unaffected during and after the isolation.
  • When adolescent mice with a genetic predisposition to traits of mental illness were isolated from other mice for three weeks, they demonstrated behaviors that are associated with mental illness during and after the isolation.
  • The environmental stress of isolation triggered dramatic and lasting behavior changes in the at-risk mice.

The researchers discovered that the mice with behaviors related to mental illness had an increased amount of the stress hormone cortisol in their system plus lower than normal levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine levels have been linked to the quality of people's mood and to illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Although the researchers are looking further into the genetic and chemical mechanisms at work within the mice, the rest of us can take this information and put it to practical use.

The Importance of Finding Support

Although the human body tends to be resilient during adolescence, environmental stress can have a lasting effect on those with risk factors for mental health problems. Not all stress can be avoided, but the researchers at Johns Hopkins have demonstrated how important social connection is in managing stress.

Adolescence can be an extremely lonely time. Children and teens can be cruel to one another, or there might be problems at home, or we do not know how to communicate what we feel so that others understand.

However, the problem is not you no matter how much it appears to be. The problem is being human. In some ways, we still are not that good at it.

If you are in adolescence and feel disconnected from others, do not believe the lie that no one cares. Sometimes the people closest to us seem the furthest away, but there are people available who can help. Talk to a school counselor, a trusted teacher, coach, minister, or find support online.

Source: Science Daily

 
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