Mental health refers to emotional, cognitive, and behavioral well-being. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Each teen will have a nuanced way of internalizing, processing, and integrating the experiences that arise during adolescence. A teenager’s mental health can be influenced by a variety of factors. There is, for example, an indisputable connection between anxiety and teen mental health.
Anxiety and Teen Mental Health
The medical definition of anxiety provided in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is an “overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.” It is the body’s natural response to stress and will manifest differently in everyone. To best illustrate the connection between anxiety and teenage mental health, it is helpful to consider what happens in a teenage body when anxiety presents:
- Release of stress hormones: Anxiety affects certain hormones in the brain, including cortisol, known as the primary stress hormone, and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), which is the neuroendocrine system mediating the stress response.
- Causes the amygdala to enlarge: An enlarged amygdala (area of the brain that perceives feelings of stress, anxiety, irritability, and processes fear) intensifies the body’s response to threatening and/ or scary situations.
- Shrinks the hippocampus: The hippocampus (area of the brain associated with learning and memory) connects to the amygdala, and together they control emotional memory recalling and regulation. Damage to the hippocampus can harm long-term memory and interfere with one’s ability to form new memories.
- Weakens structural brain connections: Anxiety can weaken the connection between the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex (area of the brain that reigns rational thought, impulse control, executive planning, and more), making it difficult for the pre-frontal cortex to send a logical response to danger to the amygdala. This can increase one’s sensitivity to danger and hinder one’s ability to develop rational responses.
- Reduces grey matter volume: Researchers at Yale University found that chronic stress and anxiety reduces the volume of grey matter in the areas of the brain responsible for self-control.
- Produce gastrointestinal upset: Anxiety can adversely affect one’s excretory and digestive systems, leading to a loss of appetite, stomachaches, nausea, diarrhea, and other digestive issues.
According to the Mayo Clinic, experiencing worry, fear, stress, and anxiety is considered a normal part of life, when it is occasional and temporary. However, without effective coping mechanisms to navigate anxiety when it arises, the physiological effects of anxiety are sure to impact a teenager’s mental health, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.
For Information and Support
Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.
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