While ost teens have a violent, angry outburst at some point during their adolescence, nearly 8 percent have regular violent outbursts that would fall into the category of a mental health disorder.
That’s according to a Harvard Medical School finding published online Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the first studies to measure the prevalence of the disorder — called intermittent explosive disorder — in teens.
“To our surprise, it turns out to be one of the most common mental health disorders in adolescents,” said study leader and Harvard epidemiologist Ronald Kessler, whose previous research noted a similar prevalence in adults.
The new study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is based on a survey of more than 10,000 teenagers and parents, which found the disorder starts early in life, by age 12 on average, and is two to three times more common in boys than girls.
But some psychiatrists question whether intermittent explosive disorder is even a true mental health condition in teens and are fighting to keep it out of the latest edition of the handbook of psychiatric diagnoses, called DSM-V, which is due out next May. They argue that it’s akin to domestic violence, which also isn’t considered to be a psychiatric problem.
It defines intermittent explosive disorder as recurrent outbursts that are “grossly out of proportion to the provocation” or life circumstances, but the draft also specifies that a person must be at least 18 years of age in most cases to receive the diagnosis. It does note, though, that the diagnosis can be made in teens who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or other behavioral disorders.
“This is still up for discussion, and the new study clearly shows a young age of onset,” said Dr. Emil Coccaro, chair of the psychiatry department at the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the study. He added that he hoped the DSM committee would drop the age restriction in the final version that’s published.