While it is normal to chalk up volatile temper and self-mutilation to teenage rebellion, psychiatrists warn that on a certain level, such actions and temperament can be considered signs of severe emotional imbalance and should be taken seriously as indicators of emotional disorders.
Tri-Service General Hospital Department of Psychiatry director Yeh Chih-pin (葉啟斌) said in a recent report that in a questionnaire he passed out to 700 high school freshmen in September last year, about 10 percent fit the criteria for having severe emotional imbalance.
Yeh said his findings matched similar reports in other countries, adding that such students would usually be called in for another consultation. Between 3 and 5 percent of the students in the second meeting would be diagnosed with a severe emotional imbalance.
Yeh said those diagnosed as severely emotionally imbalanced are often enraged over the slightest trifles and give vent to that anger by upending tables, slamming doors, getting into fights or hitting others.
Some are unable to stand the rejections they receive during social interactions, resorting to self-mutilation by either cutting their arms or wrists or burning themselves with cigarettes.
These symptoms usually repeat themselves and last for more than a year, Yeh said.
Yeh said he suspected the numerous reports on schoolyard bullying, killings based on break-ups that went sour or the recent killing of a female student by a male student involved the disorder.
In the past, these teenagers were often misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder or hyperactivity disorder. However, international psychiatry circles have established new diagnosis regulations that define them as severely emotionally imbalanced.
The causes for such imbalances can be related to the family of the patient, as it is very possible that the patient has been spoiled as a child.
However, Yeh said that diagnosing and treating these patients is difficult, because statistics show that 45.5 percent of patients diagnosed with severe emotional imbalance are also diagnosed with hyperactivity disorders, 36.4 percent are also diagnosed with behavior disorders, 31.8 percent are diagnosed with severe depressive disorders and 18 percent with bipolar disorders.
Among his patients, Yeh said a teenaged girl called “Siao Yih” (小亦) left him with the deepest impression. Diagnosed with severe emotional imbalance, Siao Yih would become uncontrollable once her temper got the best of her, and caused numerous problems with her temper, leaving her parents to deal with the aftermath.
That caused great stress for Siao Yih’s parents, and Siao Yih’s father had even left home due to the tense atmosphere in the house, Yeh said.
Eventually, Siao Yih underwent a year of therapy and managed to salvage her grades, her shattered social relationships and her family, Yeh said.
Yeh said the “leave well enough alone” attitude parents often employ in the face of teenage rebellion in the hope that such problems will resolve themselves with age does not help such teenagers.
“The emotional imbalance would just manifest in another way,” Yeh said, saying that as adults, they might be more prone to depression.
If parents find their children have a hard time controlling their emotions, they should seek medical help, either through medication or by teaching them techniques that help them control their temper.