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Teen Angst

April 11, 2007

New research may explain why seemingly trivial problems send young teens into rages and depressions.


Why stress drives teens crazy. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Teenagers are known for extreme mood swings, generally blamed on hormones. Now, scientists may have figured out why. Neuropharmocologist Sheryl Smith at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center explains that during stress, the body releases a chemical called THP that causes a tranquilizing effect on nerve cells in the brain’s emotion center.

SHERYL SMITH (New York Downstate Medical Center):
It will allow you to adapt a bit to the stress, to not feel as freaked out, and calm down a little and be able to handle the stress.

But in young mice, she found that hormones during puberty alter these brain cells, so when THP reaches them, instead of triggering a calming effect, they trigger extreme anxiety. If the mouse model holds true for people, it’s easy to see why stress that seems mild to adults could lead to extreme anxiety in young teens.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.