Brie Scott, M.A

February 14, 2024

Since the 1900s, the adolescent population has continued to face challenges with various mental health issues (Piao et al., 2022). This has posed difficulties pertaining to interpersonal connections, academic performance, low esteem, and other areas of impact (CDC). Research has depicted that more than one in three teens experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness (CDC). These emotions that lead to thoughts of suicide often coincide with reckless behaviors such as drug and alcohol use that further contribute to feelings of sadness (CDC). Previous research has found a correlation with not only marginalized groups but also those who have experienced “life events” or stressors that contribute to the development of anxiety or depression within the adolescent population (Oschry-Bernstein & et al., 2020). These traumas can cause depression or anxiety, and for others, there may already be a biological proneness towards these illnesses due to family history (Zajkowska & et al., 2022). Research has also uncovered that this anxiousness can motivate adolescents to react outwardly with aggression and self-injurious behaviors (Smokowski et al., 2013). These stressors stem from various factors in an adolescent’s microsystem; some include parental involvement, peer connectedness, geographical location, economic status, genetics, etc. (Smokowski et al., 2013). Such factors translate into an adolescent’s access to care within their microsystem. Youth who reported high levels of anxiety and aggression were found to be in disadvantaged households in which many of the youth worry about financial strain and societal image (Smokowski et al., 2013).

For many adolescents, most mental illnesses occur before the age of 14, and most often, these disorders go undiagnosed due to a lack of help-seeking behaviors (Ng et al., 2021). Previous findings have shown that one in five teens will seek professional help, while young adults, particularly men, are less likely to seek professional help (Duguid et al., 2022). Many environmental or personal challenges may influence this lack of help-seeking behaviors. Research has shown that youth in today’s society have experienced more challenges within the past few years due to changes in their social settings because of the pandemic, increased social media presence, and societal pressures (Gurba et al., 2022). With the rise of various social media platforms and influencers, adolescents constantly consume varied messages about their self-image and environment. Due to the multitude of stressors and impacted media, many adolescents respond with anxiousness, aggression, dissonance, and depressive symptoms (Smokowski et al., 2013). Previous research has indicated that globally, one in seven adolescents ranging from ages 10-19 years old has experienced a mental disorder (World Health Organization, 2021). Within the past few years, about 20%-50% of teens will develop depression as a result of such stressors (Oschry-Bernstein et al., 2020).

Considering these factors that disturb an adolescent’s microsystem and well-being, many turn to other maladaptive coping skills such as alcohol, drugs, and self-injurious behaviors (Gunn et al., 2018). These maladaptive patterns of coping can also be affected by the stressors listed above and the contexts of the adolescent. These behaviors strain an adolescent’s development in all aspects, the most important being their social connectedness to their peers and support system (Gunn et al., 2018). Engagement with maladaptive coping, such as substance use or self-destructive behavior, may result in adolescents not receiving the support they desire; however, they receive a more negative type of attention from parents, teachers, law enforcement, etc. Researchers have discovered that being a victim or witnessing violence is correlated with youth increased delinquency, violent offenses, and bullying (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). Those youth who witnessed or experienced violence within their environment were more prone to develop developmental problems and a propensity for criminal behaviors (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022).

Chronic exposure to family or environmental violence can impede adolescent development of social and interpersonal skills, which can lead to a loss of connectedness toward the self, peers, family, etc. (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). The deficit in interpersonal and social skills can cause adolescents to develop antisocial traits (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). This chronic exposure can also lead to learned violence and aggression through witnessing familial and community violence (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). As children develop, they learn behaviors, social cues, and emotional responses from those around them. Children mimic the authority figures in their lives and create their own form of attachment (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). Suppose a child is constantly exposed to violence or a victim of violence. In that case, these attachments that are formed with authority figures can be disorganized, anxious, and chaotic, which can lead to attention-seeking behaviors (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). In particular, those adolescents who have been a victim of child abuse are more prone to imitate violent behaviors if they associate offenses with being rewarded by their perpetrator or others around them (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). This learned gratification and reward system can increase an adolescent’s desire to continue engaging in criminal behaviors that provide a sense of fulfillment they may have lacked in development (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022). The attention-seeking behaviors can include finding support in harmful spaces such as gangs or criminal activities that can result in interactions with law enforcement. Studies depicted that such adolescents who have been involved with the juvenile justice system more often than not have been victims of violence, and this exposure to violence increases their risks of cyclically being in the juvenile justice system (Aguilar & Pereda, 2022).

As it relates to treatment for such adolescents who suffer from mental illnesses and interactions within the juvenile justice system, research has provided insight into effective rehabilitative treatments. In a study conducted, researchers observed 35 different research studies that looked at the effectiveness of group-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Functional Family Therapy (FFT), mentorship, Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT), and Multisystem Therapy (MST) with juveniles (Olson et al., 2021). Researchers observed contradictory and complimentary results of the effectiveness of treatments. This study discovered that these various treatments can demonstrate general positive coping and outcomes for adolescents; however, these interventions do not possess long-term positive effects for most adolescents (Olson et al., 2021). Research attributes a lack of effectiveness towards accessibility of care, biases or stigmas around mental illnesses, and a lack of trust towards mental health providers (Olson et al., 2021). Similarly, in another study focused on purely mentorship of youth who have engaged in delinquent behavior, researchers observed increased pro-social behaviors after engaging in a mentorship program (Varghese et al., 2022). Youth experienced higher levels of job-seeking, interpersonal relationships, and motivation (Varghese et al., 2022). These findings may suggest that adolescents can continue to mold their experiences of interpersonal relationships and attitudes toward their lives. This holds hope for adolescents who have experienced the juvenile justice system that rehabilitation and resources for success are available to them before and after their offense. This also gives insight into how to support youth experiencing adversity within their microsystem and how to best assist in creating a healthier microsystem built to help and not continue maladaptive cyclical patterns.


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Gunn, J. F., III, Goldstein, S. E., & Gager, C. T. (2018). A longitudinal examination of social connectedness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors among adolescents. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 23(4), 341–350.

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