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Introduction to adolescent mental health
Introduction to adolescent mental health

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1.1 The case of George

Various people can become involved in trying to make sense of any particular individual’s mental health problems, including:

  • the mentally distressed adolescent themselves
  • their friends, family members and others who interact with them socially
  • mental health and other professionals who have developed and use various theories, therapies and forms of treatment and support to explain and respond to an adolescent’s mental health problems.

In practice, all these different parties will have a view on what is happening and why, and what ought to happen next when an adolescent is (or appears to be) distressed. In some cases, these different views can contribute to a range of support options that complement each other. On the other hand, there can be times when these different views can lead to contradictory ideas about what the young person needs. For instance, does someone who is feeling anxious much of the time need counselling or medication? Or do they need help to change a situation at school or at home, which might be causing their anxiety? In the next activity, you’ll consider the case of George.

Activity 2: Understanding George

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes


A brain abnormality


Adolescent brain development making George more emotionally sensitive


No sense of belonging to a peer group


Family break-up


He doesn’t like Mum’s new partner


Liz’s history of depression


He’s jealous of his sister


He is naturally reserved


A cascade of issues arising from poor sleep


Issues at school


Friendship issues

The correct answers are a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j and k.


To an extent, it is sensible to not rule out anything from the list if you wanted to work out how to help George. You may have wondered what would constitute a ‘brain abnormality’, given that scientists are still working out what is normal in adolescence, and that people exist on a diverse spectrum of personalities and capabilities. Medical treatment with antidepressants is an attempt to adjust the chemical balance at brain synapses to improve mood, assuming that there is an abnormality to correct. As you found in Session 2, adolescence is a time of greater emotional sensitivity, so this could partly explain George’s situation. And you’ll see in Session 6 how important sleep is for young people. There are several social reasons why George might be unable to cope, especially if he does not have a strong network of friends. Issues at home and disruption of family relationships can also contribute. His mother’s depression could indicate an inherited tendency to depression.

Theoretical models can help to organise thinking around what can seem a very complex picture, as you’ll see next.