The Unique Risks of Mental Illness in Young Adults

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, “Millions of young adults are living with a mental or substance use disorder and many either do not realize they have one or are not paying attention to the signs and not seeking help.” Likewise, millions of young adults are exposed to intense risk factors that play an undeniable role in substance abuse as well as the formation of mental illness. By understanding the unique risks of mental illness in young adults, families can learn how to best protect their young adult family members and friends from developing worsening mental health symptoms. Families can also encourage young adults to participate in treatment to find lasting healing.

At 12 South Recovery, we know how the challenges and uncertainties of young adulthood often contribute to substance abuse and the development of mental illness. We offer a variety of outpatient treatment programs for young adults. These programs are customized to fit the unique needs and recovery goals of each client. In addition, we can help families instill protective factors in the lives of young adults to reduce the risks of mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD) long-term.

Understanding Risk Factors for Mental Illness and SUD

While there is no one specific cause of mental illness or SUD, there are risk factors that are known to trigger their development. Risk factors are often broken down into the following three categories:

Individual Risk Factors

These risk factors take into consideration internal factors that often inform substance abuse and mental illness. For all individuals, examples of individual risk factors include:

  • An individual’s unique chemical makeup
  • The presence of a chronic illness
  • Prolonged emotional distress, such as chronic anxiety
  • The presence of SUD or a mental illness (an already existing condition can increase one’s risk of developing another)

For young adults specifically, examples of individual risk factors for mental illness can also include:

  • Having insufficient resources and tools to effectively process and manage stress
  • Strenuous workloads from school, work, and other responsibilities
  • Recurrent alcohol and drug use

Familial Risk Factors

It’s also important to take into consideration one’s family history of mental health and SUD. Also, we can ** specific situations and circumstances that occur within the home. According to the National Insitute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Your family health history may be one of your best clues for determining your risk of developing a mental disorder and many other common illnesses.” Further, having a relative with a mental illness can increase an individual’s risk of developing one themselves.

In addition to a family history of alcohol and drug use or mental illness, other examples of familial risk factors for mental illness include:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as child abuse or neglect
  • Other instances of trauma
  • Parental substance abuse
  • Insecure attachment styles with parents
  • Parental divorce
  • Familial poverty
  • Emotional abuse from family members
  • Family rejection of gender or sexual identity
  • Poor parental monitoring or lack of involvement in the child’s life

Social Risk Factors

Another consideration is the quality of an individual’s social support circle. A support circle includes the role of their greater community in establishing and maintaining wellness. Moreover, social risk factors may greatly influence young adults’ decision to engage in alcohol and other drug use. Social factors may also cause the development of other maladaptive behaviors in an attempt to navigate stress. Some examples of social risk factors include

  • Deviant peer relationships
  • Peer pressure
  • Bullying or peer rejection
  • Exposure to violence
  • The role of stigma

The Risks of Mental Illness Specific to Young Adults

Young adulthood is filled with both excitement and uncertainty. As young adults attempt to navigate their often newfound independence, they are vulnerable to experiencing extreme shifts in mood and behavior. The NIMH explains that this is because the brain continues to develop and mature until an individual reaches their mid-to-late 20s. Moreover, the prefrontal cortex – responsible for skills such as planning, prioritizing, and healthy decision-making – is one of the last areas of the brain to fully mature.

When the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, it encourages an individual to exercise good judgment in adverse situations. Conversely, an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex inhibits an individual’s ability to fully think through the potential consequences of their actions. Therefore, when young adults are faced with peer pressure to engage in substance use or other maladaptive behaviors, they are more likely to follow the status quo. Furthermore, recurrent alcohol and drug use can trigger the development of a mental illness.

Addressing the Risks of Mental Illness With 12 South Recovery

Although everyone is vulnerable to mental illness, young adults are uniquely vulnerable. This is because they are in a crucial developmental period. Despite the high prevalence of mental illness in young adults, it is vital to recognize that treatment is available and recovery is possible. At 12 South Recovery, we individualize our client care. We ensure that every individual can effectively establish sobriety and achieve lasting symptom management with their mental illness. We focus on uncovering and addressing the root of the problem to enable long-term healing and recovery.

In addition to providing treatment for individuals who are struggling with mental illness and substance abuse, we also offer group treatments. For example, our family programs allow the family to heal together from the effects of substance abuse and mental illness. This type of program helps families establish protective factors against worsening mental health symptoms. Everyone can reduce the risks of mental illness by participating in one of our many outpatient treatment programs today.

Young adults experience unique vulnerabilities in relation to substance abuse and mental illness. This vulnerability is due to a combination of developmental sensitivities and social pressures. If you or a loved one is a young adult struggling with mental illness, treatment is available. At 12 South Recovery, we offer several outpatient programs consisting of a plethora of therapeutic modalities to choose from. In each of our treatment programs, we can create individualized treatment plans to ensure that your unique needs and recovery goals are kept at the forefront of your treatment experience. Moreover, we also offer family programs that allow you to heal alongside other family members affected by mental illness. Learn more by calling us at (888) 830-8374.

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