Many serious mental health conditions can emerge in the late teens and early twenties, further complicating an already difficult period of life. Mental health conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia, among others, may be more prevalent around this time. Other common issues that young adults are often vulnerable to include substance abuse, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
A review of the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that the onset of most mental health issues occur in young adulthood, and young adults were identified as experiencing concerns such as problematic psychological distress, major depressive episodes, and alcohol or substance abuse problems at higher rates than adults aged 26 to 34 years. Despite experiencing a higher prevalence of mental health and substance use issues, however, young adults had lower treatment rates than older adults.
Many young adults also experience a change in or challenges to their world views. As young adults enter new academic settings, new social circles, or new workplace environments, beliefs and values held throughout childhood may be questioned by others from different backgrounds or challenged by new ideas. In fact, Arnett's research shows that many young adults have identified the act of deciding on their own beliefs and values as an essential part of becoming an adult. This aspect of young adulthood may conflict with identity, or what was believed to be one's identity, and stir feelings that could contribute to mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
Young adults also have a high risk for suicide. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Youth suicide rates in Australia are higher than in many other countries and suicide is the leading cause of death for young people. Some prominent risk factors for young adult suicide include:
History of previous suicide attempts
Family history of suicide
History of depression
History of other mental health issues
Alcohol or substance abuse
Stressful life events
Young Adult Development
The young adult period is characterized by rapid physiological, sexual, cognitive, and emotional changes. The transition from adolescent to adult becomes apparent as one completes the process of physical maturation and secondary sexual characteristics become fully formed. Many young adults also move into new adult roles and responsibilities: They may begin higher education studies, enter the workforce, move away from home, or start a family. They may be expected to accept responsibility for themselves legally, make decisions for themselves, and - in many cases - are often encouraged to begin supporting themselves financially.
Erikson referred to the young adult period as "intimacy vs. isolation" in his eight stages of development, describing it as the period when individuals often begin intimate relationships after developing a sense of identity.
A longitudinal study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that a young adult's brain is not fully mature until around 25 years of age. It was discovered that most significant changes after puberty occur in the prefrontal cortex and cerebellum—the regions involved in emotional control and higher-order cognitive functioning.
While the limbic system—often associated with emotions, motivation, and behaviour—undergoes major changes during puberty, the prefrontal cortex keeps maturing for about another 10 years. This part of the brain affects how a person controls impulses and develops long-term strategies. Thus, it may be helpful when an individual attempts to answer the question, “What am I going to do with my life?”
Young Adult Interventions
Young adults may often find the support of a therapist to be helpful during the transition from adolescence into adulthood, especially if they experience mental health concerns or other difficulties as they become accustomed to new expectations, roles, and responsibilities. However, a low rate of professional help-seeking has been identified as a barrier to treatment for many young adults. Community organizations that implement programs for young adults may offer helpful information and support, but these may not be available in all areas. These groups may focus on a particular challenge or concern, such as substance abuse or depression, but they might also simply provide a space for young adults to talk and connect. These programs may be often available on university campuses, as well. Most programs are open to all, but some focus on the inclusion of diverse individuals who may be less welcome in other groups.
When young adults seek help for mental health concerns, they can benefit from a range of interventions and therapeutic modalities. Among these are cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy and interpersonal therapy, which are therapeutic approaches that can help young adults identify and alter negative thought patterns and feelings and work towards personal goals. In therapy, young adults will also typically be encouraged to develop and connect with support networks. Family therapy may be a good option for young adults coping with shifting family dynamics, especially when an issue has arisen that affects familial relations.
A young adult might explore some of the following questions in therapy:
What is keeping me tied to my parents? All my friends have moved out, but I do not feel ready to live on my own yet.
Is it all right to have beliefs that are different from those of my parents? My parents are Christian, but I am agnostic.
What are my fears/anxieties about independence? What do I do if I cannot succeed on my own?
How well do I know myself? How do I discover who I really am and what I really want?
What are my values and goals? I do not know if my values are my own or if I only hold them because I learned them from my parents.