In discussing behavioural disturbances in adolescents and young people, two aspects of failure in social adaptation are clearly distinguishable. The first includes problems arising from the mutual relationship between youth and society, manifested by widescale rebellion against existing social customs, educational systems and so on, sometimes dramatized as 'the crisis of modern youth'. These phenomena are of social origin and cannot be adequately explained from psychological or biological points of view. The second aspect of maladaptation embraces the psychological disturbance of the individual, and here socio-psychological and biological causes are of considerable importance.
It is by no means clear what special combination of endogenous and exogenous factors determines the occurrence of psychotic illness rather than of those milder and much more common disorders that are located on the borderline between mental health and mental illness. To the latter group belong psychogenic maladjustment and the pathological development of personality, although a diagnosis of psychopathy should be made with caution at a time when the personality is still in process of formation. Psychogenic maladjustment is facilitated by the psychological changes during puberty, although, because of the emotional instability, intensified self-awareness, and suggestibility that accompany it, it may be argued that the pubertal phase of psychological maturation is inevitably marked by transient maladjustments and behavioural difficulties. Since the group they constitute is clinically so indistinct, the bulk of mental disorders associated with puberty occupy a position intermediate between what is psychologically 'normal' and what is pathological, and may include both masked psychopathic and neurotic conditions, as well as examples of the initial manifestations of a psychosis.
Essential differences have been established between the clinical aspects of schizophrenia in adolescents in whom physical maturation is early and those in whom it is delayed. Unsynchronized development or disturbances of sexual maturation appear to be significantly associated with neurotic states or with pathological personality formation and psychopathic behaviour.
The importance of 'minimal brain damage' as a factor contributing to maladjustment has tended to be overlooked, though it may give rise to various psychopathological syndromes, especially under adverse environmental conditions. The primary symptoms of cerebral disorder such as hyperkinesia, clumsiness, defects of visuomotor performance, impulsive behaviour, or distractibility, may serve to frustrate or irritate the parents, causing them to react with anxiety or rejection towards the child. The child's own feelings of security are therefore impaired, with further delay and disturbance of psychological maturation.
The resulting clinical picture may therefore be complicated by the continuous interaction of neurological abnormalities and environmental factors. Disabilities which may have their basis in the minimal organic lesion, such as impulsivity, short attention span, or dyslexia, may lead to problems at school as well as at home. There are cases in which minimal brain damage in itself seems to be the main factor underlying delinquent behaviour, though more often there are associated factors such as hereditary loading, early childhood deprivation, or disturbed family relations. The manifestations of mental disorders in adolescence very often follow a common pattern of antisocial, psychopathic-like behaviour, which makes for difficulty both in classification and in a systematic approach to prevention and treatment.
One British child in four has a mental health problem. Three in 100 have a depressive disorder, and 10 more will have had a bout of depression in the previous year. The number of children admitted to psychiatric hospitals increased by 25% between 1989-1994. Over 100 British adolescents committed suicide in 1992.
It takes 8 months to recognize depression in a child, and the average recovery time is 9 months, although it can last 3 to 5 years and there is a 60% chance of a relapse. About one quarter of deeply depressed children are helped by medication.
In an age dedicated to security, the lessening of basic physical adversity in life seems to have the effect of reducing resistance to minor psychic illness or alternatively of permitting it to flourish.