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Adolescents as a Vulnerable Population

Adolescence is a period of life that brings on many different experiences for everyone, but nonetheless it is a period that everyone goes through during their teenage years. One of the common experiences of adolescents is the unavoidable high school experience. Now, not everyone completes a high school education, some may drop out and choose to pursue their GED instead, or maybe just find a job, or maybe something completely different given their individual circumstance. There are others that may go through high school from the comfort of their own home and not actually through a school system. Their high school building is their house so they are not truly immersed in the environment of a high school building and all that it has to offer. According to the Education Data Organization, as of 2018 there were 15.8 million students enrolled in secondary/high school, with the rate of enrollment trending up. Focusing on this population of adolescents that are enrolled in a school, attention can be brought to mental vulnerability of this age group.

It is important to first understand the concept of a vulnerable population. The Indian Journal of Community Medicine states that the literal definition of vulnerability means the state or condition of being weak or poorly defended. Basically, the people that fall into these categories of vulnerable populations are susceptible to adversity. There is a high chance that a problem will arise among these people as opposed to among the people that are not included in a vulnerable population. For a broad example, we can split people into two groups with one being people that fly in airplanes and the second being people that do not fly in airplanes. The population that would be vulnerable to getting in crash is the one that flies in the airplanes. The other population is not in that situation and therefore would not be susceptible to that happening. Now this example should be taking lightly because it can be interpreted to suggest that the population you are grouped with is a choice. Someone could choose not to fly and then they would no longer be susceptible. However with most vulnerable populations this isn’t the case. If someone’s situation is influenced by race, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), or other factors similar to those, those are obviously circumstances out of the control of the individual or the population as a whole. In fact Holly R. Farley even identifies that the most commonly considered vulnerable populations are ethnic minorities, low SES, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. In this case of adolescents, the population you are grouped with is definitely not a choice because you cannot choose your age. You will be a teenager whether you want to or not.

Teenagers, also commonly referred to as adolescents, are a population that is vulnerable to mental health illnesses. The Review Article alludes specifically to vulnerability of young people as being found among those more exposed to risks than their surrounding peers. According to Farley, a big reason adolescents are vulnerable population is because they are developing. When you are a teenager you feel the same way as everyone else: you are too young to be treated like an adult but too old to be treated like a child. This is a big transition stage in life. Teenagers are not mature, but their maturity is developing. This point in one’s life comes with a lot of pressure. There are more responsibilities than before, school gets a little bit harder, you have to learn how to handle and organize everything, No one is holding your hand and guiding you in quite the same way as you have been used to up until now. Other risk factors to vulnerability is that it is a time where you are trying to fit in and conform with peers, you start to explore your sexual identity, you have increased use of technology, and this is just to name a few that Farley mentions. This further shows the changes and growth that is happening at this stage. There are so many new aspects to life that each teenager is exploring. They are easily shaped by the environment around them. They can be pressured into doing things that they do not actually want to do as an attempt to fit in and have friends. This can include using substances like drugs or alcohol, or something even simpler like cracking jokes in class at the expense of their reputation and success. Teenagers in high school are faced with academic and social stress, which if not provided aid in tackling these obstacles then things can have a turn for the worse.

Adolescents are vulnerable to many kinds of mental illness and/or issues. One of the most prominent mental illnesses is depression. Farley provides statistics that of the 12% of the US population that is made up of adolescents, 30% are reporting symptoms of depression each year. A striking stat is that suicide is the second leading cause of death between ages 10-24, a range that starts just short of adolescence and just a few years past. These high rates of illness can be due to the fact that these teenage years are a time of physiological changes, as previously discussed. Depression, however, is not the only mental illness seen among this vulnerable population. Other mental health issues could be anxiety, which could be generalized or attributed to social interactions. Social anxiety may stem from the environment the adolescent is in and problems that arise, but also could be the very cause for such problems. It may inhibit the ability to make friends or to get involved, which are important factors to the healthy development of adolescents. Other illnesses could be eating disorders that stem from the pressure to fit a certain body image. This is especially common among teenage girls but can be seen in boys as well. They could have generalized emotional disorders which results in a lack of properly processing, dealing with, and channeling emotions. All of these mental health issues can be connected to the vulnerability of the adolescent population. They are a group of people susceptible to struggling if they are not properly guided in the right direction.


Bustamante, Jaleesa. “K-12 Enrollment Statistics [2020]: Totals by Grade Level + More.” Education Data Organization, 6 Sept. 2019,

Farley, Holly R. “Assessing Mental Health in Vulnerable Adolescents.” Nursing2020, vol. 50, no. 10, 2020, pp. 48–53., doi:10.1097/01.nurse.0000697168.39814.93.

Shah, Dheeraj, et al. “Defining and Measuring Vulnerability in Young People.” Indian Journal of Community Medicine, vol. 40, no. 3, 2015, p. 193., doi:10.4103/0970-0218.158868.

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