Monday, October 15, 2012

Anxiety, giftedness and teen mental health problems

There is an interesting article on giftedness published in 1999  by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, The impact of giftedness on psychological well-being. This is quite a good article, that makes me look at a possible cause/mislabelling of schizophrenia in a way I had not fully considered before. What got me thinking was a conversation I had this morning with a colleague about his sixteen year old son. I came away from our discussion wondering if schizophrenia and other mental health problems often crop up in adolescence as adjustment and maturity difficulties, as this article hypothesizes. I have thought the same thing, but not directly in relation to the double-edged sword of having a high I.Q. Certainly, in Chris's case, as a child, he easily grasped academic material without putting any of his personality into the process. Perhaps my mistake was thinking that he would start to work, as lots of teenage boys do, when push comes to shove, sometime in the high school years. I should have picked up on the signal that Chris hadn't learned to challenge himself and put himself in win/lose situations at an early age. He missed out on a necessary developmental stage.

I don't want to make this look that any reasonably bright person who has had an easy time of it for a while academically, can fall into the horror of psychosis, but perhaps a key ingredient here is not just being bright, but being acutely sensitive.   According to my colleague, his son has been hospitalized a couple of times due to severe anxiety, has run away from hopitals and home on several occasions, and has had huge difficulties with school attendance. It was only this past year that a teacher suggested that his unwillingness to learn might be related to double-edged gift of a high I.Q. High I.Q. children often don't develop good study habits or a need to perserve, because their intelligence has provided a short term fix when they are young. Anxiety kicks in more and more as the child moves into the teen-age years and must learn better coping skills. At this point, they panic. In some or many cases, the teenager will be given a mental health label, and treated by the mental health system in terms of depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc. My friend said that his son was relieved to have his problems cast in a different framework - rather than "crazy" it is his intellect that has been his enemy. It remains to be seen, his father told me, how his son will adapt to a new school with a different pedagogical approach than what he was used to, but so far, he is eager to go to school each morning.

There is a long history of interest in how giftedness affects psychological well-being (Berndt, Kaiser, & Van Aalst, 1982; Eysenck, 1995; Freeman, 1983; Hollingworth, 1942; Parker & Mills, 1996; Ramaseshan, 1957; Reynolds & Bradley, 1983; Richards, 1989; Strang, 1950; Watson, 1965). During the last 50 years, two conflicting views prevailed. The first is that gifted children are generally better adjusted than their nongifted peers; that giftedness protects children from maladjustment. This view hypothesized that the gifted are capable of greater understanding of self and others due to their cognitive capacities and therefore cope better with stress, conflicts and developmental dyssynchrony than their peers. Studies supporting this view report that gifted children demonstrate better adjustment than their average peers when measured on a variety of factors (Baker, 1995; Jacobs, 1971; Kaiser, Berndt, & Stanley, 1987; Neihart, 1991; Ramasheshan, 1957; Scholwinski & Reynols, 1985).

The second view is that gifted children are more at-risk for adjustment problems than their nongifted peers, that giftedness increases a child's vulnerability to adjustment difficulties. Supporters of this view believe that gifted children are at greater risk for emotional and social problems, particularly during adolescence and adulthood. Their hypothesis is that the gifted are more sensitive to interpersonal conflicts and experience greater degrees of alienation and stress than do their peers as a result of their cognitive capacities.

Read the rest here


  1. A related question. Do you know of any more recent studies that looked at whether mental illnesses are more common in individuals with high IQ than those with average/below average IQ?

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