Mental Health Issues to Be Aware of in Your Twenties

Young man walkingPeople in their 20s seem to have it all: youth, energy, health, and looks. But they are also still figuring themselves out, and this time of change can bring certain mental health concerns as well. Experts have information on these issues that tend to impact people in their 20s, and provide some solutions for addressing and coping with these problems.

Clinical psychologist Dean Haddock, a marriage, family, and child counselor and the executive director and founder of Community Counseling and Psychological Services, points to a fairly common activity of 20-somethings that can lead to mental health issues if it’s not checked: alcohol and drug use.

“The first problem that leads to many others is alcohol and chemical abuse, which often leads to dependency,” Haddock said in an email. “The mental disorders that follow are often depression, anxiety, and brain injury. Of course, self-esteem and body-image problems often lead to eating disorders.”

Haddock gives three tips to help people in their 20s prevent and get through some common mental health concerns:

  1. Know your genetic history of mental disorders. Knowing is half the battle to avoid those disorders in yourself.
  2. Be choosey about your friends, as they will influence your decisions. Healthy friends lead to healthier decisions.
  3. Self-esteem is often the result of the people who matter to you. If they do not esteem you, then you will not esteem yourself.

Nerina Garcia-Arcement, a clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine, suggests that the many life changes people experience in their 20s can cause mental health issues at times.

“Your 20s are filled with life transitions that can be stressful,” Garcia-Arcement said. “This is a time when young adults are solidifying their personalities, developing their independence from family, starting or finishing college, beginning new jobs, developing a career, forming romantic relationships, and learning to manage their existing family relationships and friendships within these context.”

“Individuals in their 20s don’t have a lifetime of experience to draw on when managing multiple life transitions at once,” she added. “When someone experiences these transitions, anxiety and depressive disorders can occur.”

Here are six of Garcia-Arcement’s tips to help people in their 20s cope with mental health issues more common to that age group:

  1. Seek out and form strong support networks.
  2. Seek out others who are going through similar experiences and share your feelings, whether you are feeling worried, nervous, scared, sad, confused, or excited.
  3. Know that you are not alone in your confusion about your career and relationships.
  4. Seek out mentors who have achieved their goals, and ask for advice.
  5. If you are feeling stress, sadness, or anxiety, engage in activities that will help you manage those feelings such as yoga, meditation, exercise, hobbies, social activities, relaxation exercises, and deep breathing.
  6. If you feel you are not getting the necessary support and feel overwhelmed or depressed, seek out mental health professionals who can help you manage the feelings related to your life transitions.

Stephanie Sarkis, a licensed mental health counselor, said in an email that anxiety and depression are some of the main mental health issues 20-somethings face.

“We have seen an increase in these issues due to the lagging economy and difficulties finding employment,” Sarkis said. “Many people in their 20s have moved back in with their parents, which can trigger feelings of failure and frustration.”

Dr. Maiysha Clairborne, a family physician and wellness and stress management coach, added in an email that eating disorders associated with body dysmorphic disorder and body-image issues are also common for people in their 20s. She has three overall tips for people in this age group:

  1. Talk to someone. The worst thing that a person can do when they are feeling depressed, anxious, or alone is to isolate more. Many times when we talk with someone we trust about what’s going on, we come to realize that we are not the only ones experiencing it and then we can get support.
  2. Get active. Staying physically active not only helps to keep the body fit but also helps release endorphins and serotonin in the brain, which help keep the mood elevated. Physical activity is also a good release for stress and anxiety.
  3. Minimize sugar and junk food. Sugar and processed junk foods can worsen the emotions of stress, anxiety, and depression because they cause erratic changes in your body’s blood sugars. This can disrupt the normal release of hormones in the brain that keep your moods stable.

Scott Carroll, a psychiatrist with dual board certifications in adult and child and adolescent psychiatry, said there are many issues specific to people in their 20s, including problems associated with medication use.

“Many people were on stimulants/meds for their ADHD when they were younger, but they thought it was okay to stop their meds when they were done with school,” Carroll said. “Now they are struggling at work and don’t know why. I’ve also seen young adults stop all kinds of meds like their thyroid meds because they didn’t know why they were even on it, and then they have all kinds of problems.”

Bad habits involving drug and alcohol use can start to become a major substance abuse issue when people are in their 20s, and other mental health issues start coming to the forefront at this time in peoples’ lives. Examples include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Also, panic attacks can start for people who have a genetic predisposition and who have higher amounts of stress associated with newfound adulthood.

“The 20s are an important time of social/emotional development,” Carroll said. “Unlike previous generations, identity formation often takes the entire 20s due to the complexity of modern society. It could be said that adolescence lasts until the early 30s in today’s society due to [prolonged] periods of education (grad school, law school, med school, etc.), lack of stable job options, and delays in getting married and starting families.”

Carroll, who is also an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, suggests that when it comes to serious relationships and marriage, people in their 20s should consider how their choices could eventually affect their mental health and how their brain plays a part in their decision.

“Many 20-somethings are tempted to get married, but it is generally a bad idea because the brain in not done developing until about 25 [years old] … which leaves young adults vulnerable to having their rational mind be overwhelmed by their feelings or stress,” Carroll said. “Relationship choices often dramatically change from the early 20s to the late 20s, so many people find that the person that was perfect at 22 is a disaster at 27.  This can be an incredibly hard transition, to have to break up with your former soul mate that you thought you’d love for life because you’ve changed so much over the last several years.”

Related articles:
Do I Have a Healthy Relationship With Food and My Body?
Social Anxiety Can Be a Hidden Problem in College
How Schools Could Prevent Depression

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  • donna

    July 24th, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Thank you so much for this article. It cam along at the perfect time, as I have a 21 year old niece who thinks she knows everything, and no matter what I try to tell her to her she thinks that I am always preaching but to me I am just trying to look out for her best interests. I think that she thinks she is ready to conquer the world but I want her to see that just because you have the energy to do this right now, you might now have all the information that you need to make the right steps. Maybe if she could read this coming from someone besides me and her parents she might pay a little better attention.

  • Brooke Rivers

    July 24th, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    In general, your 20s are a good time to get to know who you are and the things that you want out of life. It’s a good time to make mistakes and learn from them, take those life lessons, and make your future life better. Be flexible, be smart, and be rewarded by the wise choices that you can learn to make.

  • shaun

    July 24th, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    no time in our life can be taken for granted…work at every stage and seriously, there’s much more to life than drugs that give you a temporary pleasure.

  • BigEgo

    July 25th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    The hardest part about being in your twenties is that you are almost so focused on yourself that sometimes it is hard to really pinpoint when something is actually wrong. There are tons of conflicting emotions and hills and valleys and so with all of that whirl, it can be hard to take a step back from it all and say yes, there is something a little wrong going on here. It is this time of change and energy, and also a time of intense pressure. Finish college, get a job, get married, start a family. . . lots of changes that can bring about stress for a lot of people.

  • Lincoln J

    July 25th, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    You know the hardest thing that you confront when you enter your twenties? It’s like everyone expects you to automatically be an adult when in your head and the way you really want to act you still very much feel like a kid. That’s a lot of responsibility to take on at an early age and yet most people don’t think about the pressure that they are putting on these young kids to grow up overnight. They are young and quite franfly I think that we expect far too much from them. Don’t you remember being this age and feeling sometimes like the weight of the world was on your shoulders and you didn’t know how to alleviate it? I think that’s still true today and probably even tougher than when most of us were growing up. So I think the best thing to do is to ease up on them, let them enter adulthood a little more slowly so they can savor this time of still being young but knowing that they have their whole lives ahead of them to step into those big decisions.

  • Sue

    July 26th, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    I see a big issue with teens and young adults in their 20s that they are so eager to impress others that they have a hard time following and being who they want to be. They are much too concerned with going with and being a part of the in crowd they fporget about the impostance of just being themselves. I tried very hard as a parent to instill the importance of living up to your own expectations to my childrena dn encouraging them to not pay quite so much attention to what they thought others wanted from them. This worked sometimes and then other times all they wanted to do was conform and follow the leader. We have to teach them that they can be the leader every now and then, and this can be the best way for being your own true self.

  • KimK

    July 27th, 2012 at 4:31 AM

    many times young people mistake what could actually be a serious mental health issue with something that is simply associated with their hectic lifestyle.

    we have to teach everyone to be a lot more in tune with themselves, to know what feels normal and what doesn’t, and when it is fine to ask for help

  • Anna

    December 19th, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    The hardest part of early 20’s for me is wanting the marriage, children and owning a home part but also wanting to travel and live carefree for a while first. I feel like there are two routes for me to take and It’s on my mind constantly.

  • Kenneth B

    July 27th, 2015 at 12:41 AM

    I’m actually a senior in college & this article helped a lot. I came a long way just to make to this point in my life via poverty, my neighborhood, finances, family issues, etc but I’m still trying to find a balance with everything.

  • Health in Your 20s - Dr. Wayne Jonas

    July 12th, 2022 at 12:55 PM

    […] counseling and psychological help website has a helpful article on mental health issues to watch for in your 20s. A series called Adulting 101 from Intermountain […]

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