Anger Prevalent in American Youth

According to a study from Harvard Medical School, nearly two-thirds of American adolescents have felt an anger attack at an early age that involved threats of violence, vandalism and even attacking others. These episodes of uncontrollable rage are more common in today’s adolescents compared to previous findings.

The study is based on the seminal National CoMorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement, which is a national household survey conducted face-to-face with 10,148 individual American adolescents. It found that of those surveyed, two-thirds of adolescents have in their past undergone anger attacks and one in every twelve individuals, nearly six million young adults, has met the criteria to be diagnosed as suffering from Intermittent Explosive Disorder. IED is an emotional syndrome characterized by persistent uncontrollable anger attacks not found in other psychological illnesses.

The study results were published in the July 2nd edition of Archives of General Psychiatry. The study clarified that IED typically presents itself during late childhood, and often continues throughout one’s life. This condition is also associated with other problems, and often precipitates emotional disorders such as depression and substance abuse. All these findings were elucidated by the study’s Senior Author Ronald Kessler, who is also the McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at the Harvard Medical School. He further said that only six and half percent of all adolescents suffering from IED had received professional treatment for their anger attacks.

The HMS study further found that IED sufferers often have severe and chronic episodes during adolescence, and its first symptoms occur early in life. The study further found that IED episodes are largely untreated, with only 37.8 percent of adolescents undergoing treatment for IED and other emotional problems within a year of the study. In this group, only 6.5 percent received psychotherapy specifically for this anger disorder.

With these findings, the study team advocates the importance in identification and treatment of IED especially through school-based violence prevention programs. Kessler added, “If we can detect IED early and intervene with effective treatment right away, we can prevent a substantial amount of future violence perpetration and associated psychopathology.”

In order to be diagnosed with IED, the adolescent must have at least three separate incidents of impulsive aggressiveness that is described as “grossly out of proportion to any precipitating psychosocial stressor” at any stage in their life. This definition comes straight from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For the study, an even more stringent criteria had been set for IED where adolescents would not be qualified under other mental conditions related to aggression, such as bipolar disorder, ADHD or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and other conduct disorders.

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