By 1968 about half the people in the United States will be under twenty-five. One-fourth of all psychiatric clinic patients are now adolescents. The National Institute of Mental Health has calculated that if the present rate of increase continues, the number of young people in mental hospitals will double in the next decade.
The diagnosis of emotional disorders in young people requires considerable discrimination. Adolescents often present a fluctuation of moods that may resemble incipient or active psychopathology. Anna Freud has warned against the tendency to identify common adolescent phenomena as forms of mental illness: “The adolescent manifestations came close to symptom formation of the neurotic, the psychotic or dyssocial order and verge almost imperceptibly into borderline states and initial, frustrated or full-fledged forms of almost all the mental illnesses.… Such fluctuations between extreme opposites would be deemed highly abnormal at any other time of life” [“Adolescence,” Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, XIII (International Universities Press, 1958), p. 275].
The evanescent mood swings of adolescence must be differentiated from the lingering, more sinister alterations of personality that may signify more serious disorder.
The concept of identity crisis elaborated by Erik Erikson has widely influenced adolescent psychology. He regards the search for identity as one in a series of developmental crises in the growing person. As one crisis is resolved, growth proceeds in healthy fashion to the next. The establishment of a sense of identity he calls “the great task of late adolescence.” As long as the establishment of identity is incomplete, identity-confusion is said to ...1
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