What Is The Most Common Psychological Problem In Adolescence

11 Jan 2022
Discover the most common psychological problem in adolescence and learn empowering strategies to overcome it.

Common Adolescent Mental Health Issues

In an era where mental health awareness is increasingly vital, understanding the prevalence and disparity of mental disorders among adolescents is essential. Adolescence, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, is often accompanied by various psychological problems. This section will examine the prevalence of these mental disorders and discuss the disparities in mental health based on gender.

Prevalence of Mental Disorders

In any given year, 20% of adolescents worldwide experience mental disorders, with anxiety or depression being the most common issues [1]. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent emotional disorders among adolescents, with 3.6% of 10–14-year-olds and 4.6% of 15–19-year-olds experiencing an anxiety disorder. Depression, another leading ailment, is estimated to occur among 1.1% of adolescents aged 10–14 years, and 2.8% of 15–19-year-olds.

Age Group Anxiety Disorders (%) Depression (%)
10–14 years 3.6 1.1
15–19 years 4.6 2.8

Depression, one of the highest prevalent mental illnesses, is one of the common ailments that can take root during childhood or adolescence. It is estimated that up to 20% of children experience mental illness worldwide.

Gender Disparities in Mental Health

When addressing the question, "what is the most common psychological problem in adolescence?" it is crucial to consider the role gender plays in mental health disorders. Girls report significantly higher scores of psychological distress, anxiety, and depression compared to boys [1].

While both genders can and do experience mental health issues, the heightened vulnerability of girls underscores the need for targeted interventions. Understanding these gender disparities is a key step towards creating inclusive, effective mental health support systems for all adolescents.

In a nutshell, the most common psychological problems in adolescence, namely anxiety and depression, are prevalent across the globe, with notable gender disparities. Recognizing these issues and their widespread impact is the first step towards empowering adolescents to overcome these challenges.

Most Common Psychological Problems

Adolescence, a period of significant growth and development, is not without its challenges. Among these, mental health problems are increasingly prevalent. The most common psychological problems during this phase are anxiety disorders and depression.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common emotional disorders among adolescents. According to the World Health Organization, 3.6% of adolescents aged 10–14 years and 4.6% of those aged 15–19 years experience an anxiety disorder.

These disorders can manifest in various forms, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. The symptoms often include excessive worry, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and fatigue.

With the right intervention, most adolescents with anxiety disorders can learn to manage their anxiety and lead normal lives. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven effective in reducing symptoms in both universal trials and targeted high-risk youth group trials.


Depression is another prevalent mental health issue in adolescence. Estimates suggest that depression occurs in 1.1% of adolescents aged 10–14 years and 2.8% of adolescents aged 15–19 years [2]. A nationally representative survey indicated that the lifetime prevalence of depression is between 11% and 14% among adolescents aged 13 to 18 years [3].

Depression in adolescents often manifests as persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, and in severe cases, thoughts of suicide. It is essential to recognize these symptoms early and seek professional help.

Preventing the onset of depression in children and adolescents is a vital public health goal. Recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses have found evidence of beneficial effects of preventive strategies for depression in adolescents [3].

Understanding and acknowledging these common psychological problems is the first step towards empowering adolescents to manage their mental health. With the right support, information, and resources, adolescents can learn to navigate these challenges and emerge stronger.

Impactful Mental Health Disorders

Upon discussing the most common psychological problems in adolescence, it becomes essential to delve into two particularly impactful disorders: Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Eating Disorders. Both of these disorders significantly affect an adolescent's life and require understanding and intervention for effective management.

Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a common psychological problem in adolescence. ADHD is characterized by varying levels of inattention, disorganization, and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity. This disorder can significantly impact an adolescent's academic performance, social interactions, and overall quality of life.

According to the World Health Organization, ADHD occurs among 3.1% of 10–14-year-olds and 2.4% of 15–19-year-olds. This shows the prevalence of ADHD and underscores the need for early detection and intervention strategies.

Age Group Prevalence of ADHD
10–14-year-olds 3.1%
15–19-year-olds 2.4%

These figures illustrate the need for parents, teachers, and healthcare providers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of ADHD. Early diagnosis and appropriate interventions can help adolescents with ADHD reach their full potential and lead productive and fulfilling lives.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, while less prevalent than ADHD, are nonetheless a serious and potentially life-threatening psychological problem in adolescence. These disorders, which include conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, are characterized by a disturbed body image and excessive concerns about weight and appearance.

The prevalence of eating disorders varies widely, but they are most common among adolescents and young adults. These disorders can have serious physical, psychological, and social consequences, and they require prompt and appropriate treatment.

While the exact prevalence rates for eating disorders among adolescents are not provided in the given context, it's known that these disorders tend to be more common in females than in males. Moreover, the onset of eating disorders often coincides with puberty, a time of significant physical, emotional, and social changes.

It's crucial for parents, teachers, and healthcare providers to be alert to the signs of an eating disorder, which can include drastic changes in eating habits, excessive concern about weight or appearance, and severe body dissatisfaction. Early detection and intervention are vital to prevent these disorders from causing serious harm and to help adolescents recover their physical and emotional health.

Risks and Concerns

As we delve deeper into adolescent mental health, it becomes evident that psychological problems during this stage can lead to severe consequences if left unaddressed. Two significant concerns that arise in conjunction with adolescent mental health issues are suicidal behavior and substance abuse.

Suicidal Behavior

One of the most alarming risks associated with adolescent mental health problems is suicidal behavior. According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in older adolescents (15–19 years). Various factors contribute to this risk, such as harmful use of alcohol, abuse in childhood, stigma against help-seeking, barriers to accessing care, and access to means of suicide.

Risk Factors for Suicide
Harmful use of alcohol
Abuse in childhood
Stigma against help-seeking
Barriers to accessing care
Access to means of suicide

These factors highlight the importance of timely intervention, stigma reduction, and accessible mental health care for adolescents.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is another significant concern related to adolescent mental health. The World Health Organization reports that the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking among adolescents aged 15–19 years was 13.6% in 2016, with males most at risk. Additionally, the use of tobacco and cannabis are significant concerns among adolescents.

Substance Abuse Among Adolescents (2016)
Heavy episodic drinking: 13.6%
Tobacco use: Significant concern
Cannabis use: Significant concern

As noted by youth.gov, statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

These risks and concerns related to adolescent mental health emphasize the importance of early detection, preventive strategies, and effective interventions. These efforts can help adolescents navigate this critical developmental stage and set the foundation for healthy mental and emotional well-being in adulthood.

Onset and Prevention

Understanding the onset and prevention of psychological problems during adolescence is essential when addressing the question, "What is the most common psychological problem in adolescence?" Early intervention can significantly alter the course of mental health disorders, potentially avoiding the progression into more severe conditions in adulthood.

Early Signs and Risk Factors

Half of all mental health disorders in adulthood start by the age of 14, and three-quarters start by the age of 25 NCBI. Consequently, adolescence is a critical period for identifying early signs and risk factors associated with these disorders.

Children and adolescents with symptoms that do not fully meet the criteria for the diagnosis of a mental disorder are at increased risk for impaired mental health in adulthood NCBI.

For example, findings from several studies have shown a significantly increased risk of developing major depression in adolescents with sub-clinical depression over two years NCBI. This underlines the importance of recognizing and addressing even mild symptoms during adolescence.

Preventive Strategies

Preventing the onset of depression in children and adolescents is an advanced and vital public health goal with the potential to improve public health and decrease health care costs NCBI.

Many systematic reviews and meta-analyses have recently determined that there is evidence for beneficial effects of preventive strategies for depression in children and adolescents NCBI.

Targeted interventions on high-risk youth yield better results than those obtained from the universal programs on the general population NCBI. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is proven to be effective in reducing symptoms in universal trials and also in targeted high-risk youth group trials NCBI.

Therefore, early identification of risk factors and symptoms, combined with well-timed and targeted preventive strategies, can be highly effective in managing common psychological problems in adolescence. Consequently, it's essential for parents, educators, and health professionals to prioritize mental health awareness, education, and early intervention.

Effective Interventions

Addressing the question, 'what is the most common psychological problem in adolescence?', it is crucial to not only identify the issues but also explore effective interventions. These strategies can help adolescents cope with their psychological problems and enhance their mental resilience. Two of the most effective interventions include cognitive-behavioral therapy and targeted interventions.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps patients understand how their thoughts and feelings influence their behaviors. It is often used to treat a wide range of conditions, including phobias, addiction, depression, and anxiety.

According to NCBI, CBT has been proven effective in reducing symptoms in both universal trials and targeted high-risk youth group trials. The therapy focuses on changing the negative thought patterns that are causing distress, helping the individuals to view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.

CBT treatment typically involves efforts to change thought patterns, teaching skills to manage your symptoms and helping you to gradually face situations that make you feel anxious or depressed. It is often a short-term treatment, making it a viable option for adolescents dealing with psychological problems.

Targeted Interventions vs. Universal Programs

When addressing adolescent mental health, the effectiveness of targeted interventions versus universal programs is often debated.

Targeted interventions focus on high-risk youth and are designed to prevent the onset of major depressive disorders. These interventions are particularly useful for adolescents exhibiting sub-clinical symptoms of depression. Research has shown a significantly increased risk of developing major depression in adolescents with sub-clinical depression over two years, hence the need for targeted interventions [3].

On the other hand, universal programs aim to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors among the general population of adolescents. These programs are typically administered in school settings and may include components such as mental health education and resilience-building activities.

According to a meta-analysis cited by NCBI, targeted interventions yield better results than universal programs in high-risk youth. However, universal programs still have a role to play in promoting mental health literacy and reducing stigma among the general population.

In conclusion, both Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and targeted interventions have been shown to be effective in addressing the most common psychological problems in adolescence. The selection of the most appropriate intervention often depends on the individual's specific needs and circumstances. It is crucial to ensure that adolescents have access to these interventions to help them navigate this critical period of their lives.


[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5763832/

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

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7978390/

[4]: https://opa.hhs.gov/adolescent-health/mental-health-adolescents

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC556080/

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