PARENTS - Emotional disorders in childhood and adolescence

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Nowadays, psychological problems have become the main cause of disability among young people and no treatment consequences significantly influence the harmonious development of children and adolescents. The term of "emotional problems" is an "umbrella" concept that refers to a wide range of associated aspects and it defines mainly a psychological condition characterized by an abnormal functioning of a person's thoughts and emotions.

Mental problems in childhood and adolescence are often classified into two main categories: emotional (internalizing) disorders and behavioral (externalizing) disorders. The most common internalizing problems in children and adolescents are anxiety and depressive disorders, and externalizing disorders include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders. In contrast with externalizing disorders characterized by maladaptive (external) behaviors (destruction, aggression, etc.), those with emotional (internalizing) disorders maintain problems "for them". Whatever the situation, it interferes with the social, familial and academic functioning of young people.

When we talk about emotional problems, the concept of negative affectivity, ie the tendency to experience negative emotions more frequent (such as sadness, anxiety, anger, irritability, etc.), remains the focus of attention. Often, people have low self-esteem, feelings of lack of value, leading to social withdrawal and isolation. It may occur changes in eating habits which results in weight loss or weight gain, lower energy levels, and the sleep program may be irregular with longer or shorter sleep episodes than the usual one.

During childhood, anxiety can be a normal and often encountered, due to the fact that the little ones have fewer experiences than adults and they can often see multiple situations as terrifying. Children are addicted to attachment persons for emotional support and they may be affected by parents problems. When the child's anxiety interferes with daily activities and affects their normal functioning, the criteria for an emotional disorder are most likely to be met. For example, anxiety disorders differ from normal fear through overestimating the danger of situations they face and fear, often avoiding them.

In adolescence, young people go through a period of transition governed by physical and psychological changes that mark the pass to adulthood. Most changes in adolescent life are normal, and familial support and understanding are extremely important in this period. The transition to maturity also has a major impact on the emotional functioning of young people. Often, adolescents, especially girls, can face depressing periods, where everything seems hopeless, they have the impression that they are misunderstood and their own person is depreciated. In many situations, depressive mood can be replaced by irritable mood for children and adolescents.

By comparison, in childhood, symptoms of anxiety occur more frequently, while during the adolescence depressive symptoms are more common. For children, separation anxiety often occurs, which may take the form of fear to go to school / kindergarten or refusal to leave the house.

Over the time, researchers have developed various models and theories, either biological or psychological, to explain the causality of emotional disorders, but data are far from be definitive. The causes of psychological disorders can be included in three main categories: biological (including genetic), psychological, and environmental (family, friends, etc.), and there is a permanent interaction between them. Abuse, neglect, stress, lack of social support, harassment, major changes in the life of young people such as the death of a close person may be some examples of environmental factors involved in the installation of emotional problems.

Like any other medical problem, the diagnosis of an emotional disorder in children and adolescents must always be done by a specialist. He will be able to recommend an appropriate and personalized treatment program to avoid persistence or worsening of problems. The sooner the psychotherapeutic intervention is administered, the more effective it will be!