Problems of Early Adulthood

The transition to adulthood is a continuous process of fast developmental change that begins at 16 and is completed by 30 for most people. For many young people, this is a vital and exciting moment. Most people become more self-sufficient and less reliant on family assistance during this time. These phases, which include finishing school and training, starting jobs, and building connections with others, can significantly impact much of their future adult life. Changes throughout this period of life, however, are tough and complex for teenagers and young adults with major mental health disorders.

The Period of Early Adulthood

The period of our lives between the ages of 20 to 40 is known as early adulthood. We are typically vibrant, active, and healthy during this time, emphasizing friendship, romance, childbearing, and careers. After adolescence, it is the first period of adulthood during which the body physically changes, and it is one of the most difficult times in our life. One has a lot to cope with, and it is a crucial period for preparation and introspection. At this point in our lives, we have a renewed sense of independence and experience true freedom for the first time. We learn more about ourselves and others through social interaction, but that also comes with a lot of added personal responsibility to both ourselves and others. One views themselves as an independent and self-sufficient adult during the early years of adulthood.

Early Adulthood Development Tasks

Some of the duties involved in young adult development are described by Havighurst (1972). These consist of the following −

  • Defining identity involves more firmly establishing one's likes, dislikes, preferences, and philosophical beliefs.

  • Achieving autonomy involves trying to establish oneself as an autonomous person with a life of one's own.

  • Developing emotional stability is regarded as a sign of maturation since it leads to increased emotional stability.

  • Choosing and pursuing a career, or at least an initial career orientation and schooling, are all steps in establishing a career.

  • Developing initial close, lasting relationships and finding intimacy.

  • Joining a group or community for the first time. They might start participating in civic activities like voting or volunteering (scouts, church groups, etc.).

  • Getting a place to live and learning how to run a household, including creating a budget and keeping up with maintenance.

  • Having children and raising them: being a parent and learning how to run a family with kids.

  • Adjusting one's marriage or other relationships and becoming a parent.

Early Adulthood and Mental Health Disorders

By the end of early adulthood, most people have passed the years of greatest risk for the on-set of the majority of identified mental disorders. Disorder comorbidity becomes the norm rather than the exception. In a population survey conducted in the USA, 14% of individuals assessed had three or more lifetime problems, accounting for more than 50% of all mental disorders discovered throughout their lifetime and the year before the examination.

Early Adulthood Problems

The problems faced in Early Adulthood can be classified into the following −

Emotional Problems

Although mental disorders can start at any age, the peak on-set years for many conditions are in the twenties. Mood disorders are most prevalent in this age group. They can be sudden and episodic or subtle and persistent. They could be mild or severe, and psychotic symptoms or suicidal tendencies might accompany them. Major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder are the most prevalent mood disorders. Disorders that are more prone to start in childhood or adolescence, like panic disorder, other specific phobias, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, may persist or reoccur in the early stages of adulthood.

The likelihood of acquiring either acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder depends on the extent, length, and closeness of a person's exposure to a traumatic event. PTSD is predicted by acute stress reactions that do not go away, peritraumatic dissociation, or emotional numbness in response to the stressor. Social support, family history, early experiences, personality traits, and pre-existing mental illnesses influence risk. Both men and women seem to be vulnerable. Dissociative disturbances can develop even when there is no avoidance or reliving symptoms, frequently due to extreme stress.

There may also be milder, transient responses to stresses of any intensity. These typical events could occur after a romantic relationship ends or you lose your job. The signs could be depression, anxiety, or behavioral instability, which usually persist for less than six months.

Behavior and Adaptive Functioning

Early adulthood is a particularly vulnerable time for problems with various impulsive behaviors and issues with adaptive functioning in general to appear. These issues may have arisen partly due to the increased strains associated with leaving the period's protected surroundings of home and school. Stabilizing personality-related patterns of perception, responding to others, and self-reflection in one's twenties is extremely important. However, the potential for the emergence of rigid and unhelpful features that distress people or obstruct efficient social and professional functioning also exists in the twenties. As a result, personality abnormalities may emerge.

Disturbances in Physical Functioning

Early adulthood is the most likely time for some physical functioning abnormalities to become apparent. These include issues with sexual function, sleep issues, and a few bodily problems that cannot be entirely explained by a general medical illness that is known to exist. Early adulthood sees a significant occurrence of problems defined by bodily complaints without a known medical cause. Conversion reactions, hypochondriasis, and somatization disorder, in particular, can be identified for the first time in this age range.

Problems in Reality Testing

Speech, reasoning, perception, and self-experience irregularities are symptoms of reality testing issues. They have the potential to develop psychotic diseases like schizophrenia. Schizophrenia and its shorter-lived companion condition, schizophreniform disorder, may start in late adolescence (or later adulthood), but early adulthood is when it usually starts.


The transition from teenage to adulthood comes with its challenges. Early adulthood is arguably the most challenging period in one's life. While during childhood and teenage, one can rely heavily on their parents, and by middle and late adulthood, one has figured out their life, early adulthood is characterized by chaos and confusion. Early adulthood is also an extremely sensitive time for one to develop/ show an on-set of various disorders. One must take care of their mental health and themselves during this period.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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