The ages between 12 to 24 are challenging for almost all youth. The biological, social, physical and psychological path to adulthood is not easy, even under the best of circumstances. But coupled with that tough journey is the fact that 75 per cent of all mental health disorders first show up in these teen/young adult years, too. For the majority, the mental health issue is apt to be mild to moderate anxiety or depression; both highly treatable.
In all cases, if you suspect your child might be suffering from a specific condition talk to your family doctor or contact the Child and Youth Mental Health clinic provided by the Ministry of Children and Family Development in your nearest community. Call Service BC at 1-800-661-8773 to find the nearest MCFD office to you.
The transition from adolescence to adulthood is particularly risky for the development of anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN). While young women are three times more likely to develop these disorders, young men in recent years are increasingly shown to have eating issues.
While our societal obsession with thinness may set the scene; genetic risk factors, as well as underlying anxiety, perfectionism and self-esteem issues are thought to combine to trigger the disorders. Once anorexia starts and the body gets into starvation mode, the brain chemistry changes. As well, the body’s dehydration, altered electrolyte balance and poor nutritional status can lead to heart rhythm issues and other organ function problems. The goal in treating anorexia is to re-feed the person to a healthier weight, and then treat the disordered thinking behind the condition, with one or more of the most effective treatments. These treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), family-based therapy and dialectic behavior therapy (DBT). With bulimia, along with CBT, antidepressant medication has been shown to be helpful. In both conditions, medications may be helpful if there is a co-occurring mood or anxiety disorder, as is often the case.
Symptoms of AN to look for in your teen include rapid or significant weight loss, food restriction and obsession with calories or exercise. For BN, weight loss may not be very apparent, but your teen may go to the washroom immediately after eating and run the water. You may see evidence of vomiting in the toilet bowl.
Since anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, it is important to seek help at the first signs. For more information, see Kelty Eating Disorders, keltyeatingdisorders.ca.