While many people face certain situations that elicit feelings of anger, some individuals may respond to frustrating circumstances with overt, and sometimes unnecessary, aggression. Those who are not aggressive often comprehend and know that acting in a volatile or hostile manner towards others or property is not acceptable behavior and increases one’s risk of experiencing certain consequences as a result. However, there are some people who battle mental health conditions in which aggression is a symptom or have other causes for their aggressive tendencies that prevent them from being able to control aggressive impulses. Furthermore, these individuals may not fully realize that behaving in this way will likely produce unfavorable effects that can be lasting. Young people are an especially vulnerable population to developing aggressive tendencies as there are certain mental illnesses that affect young people that include aggression as a symptom. Additionally, children and adolescents are still in the process of developing the skills needed to control impulses, say for managing aggression and anger, and may have difficulty abstaining from certain acting out behaviors without the assistance of caregivers or other adults.
When a young person consistently displays aggressive behaviors, mental health treatment is often needed to address the underlying causes for this type of acting out. Therapeutic interventions for youth are able to successfully pinpoint the causes of aggression, facilitate the learning of new skills for managing behaviors and emotions, help young people understand the impact of aggression on their lives, and assist caregivers in helping their child in the most appropriate ways when at home. By receiving this type of care, a youth can come to understand a life without the obstacles and infringements caused by the presence of overt aggression.
Causes of Aggressive Behavior
Mental health professionals, as well as researchers, believe that there can be several causes for aggression. A person’s genetics, environment, mental health, and the presence of certain medications can cause an individual to be more aggressive than others. The following are elaborations on these widely-accepted notions:
Genetic: Through extensive research that examined the prevalence of aggression among individuals who share similar genes, it has been realized that there is a specific gene that can be inherited that can make a person more vulnerable to behaving in an aggressive manner. Because of this discovery, it can be said that the presence of aggression in a person can be influenced by genetics.
Environmental: Mental health experts agree that there are a number of environmental influences and circumstances that can cause a young person to display aggression towards others or property. Ongoing exposure to violence or chaos, being the victim of abuse, neglect, or bullying, or possessing caregivers with poor impulse control or aggression issues are examples of environmental influences that can cause a child or adolescent to act out aggressively.
Mental health disorders: there are several psychiatric conditions that feature aggression as a symptom. When these disorders are a factor in a youth’s life, therapeutic intervention is often necessary to alleviate aggression and other problematic symptoms. The following disorders are those that can include aggression as a symptom:
- Intellectual disability
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Acute stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders
- Substance use disorders
- Conduct disorder
Medications: When children or adolescents are prescribed medications for physical ailments and psychiatric conditions, it is important for caregivers to be mindful of the potential side effects that can occur. Most doctors or psychiatrists make a point to note risks to a youth’s health when taking medications, yet there are some prescription drugs that include aggression as a side effect. If a change in a young person’s behavior occurs such that a youth becomes aggressive, consulting with a healthcare provider is necessary.
Effects of Aggressive Behavior
When aggressive words or actions are a regular occurrence in a young person’s life, it is likely that consequences will result. The following are examples of what can occur should aggressive or violent behaviors remain present in a youth’s life without therapeutic intervention to cease such an issue:
- Interaction with the legal system
- Potential for future incarceration
- Development of a mental health condition or conditions
- Disciplinary action at school
- Academic failure
- Physical injury due to acting out or violent behaviors
- Discord among peers and loved ones
- Inability to adjust to change in a healthy manner
- Overall decline in one’s physical health
- Development of a problem with drugs and/or alcohol
- Increased need for hospitalization
Treatment for Aggressive Behavior
Youth with a tendency to be aggressive or those who display overtly hostile responses to minor triggers are likely battling a mental health condition or conditions. There are a number of mental illnesses that affect children and adolescents and these illnesses often include aggression as a symptom. Possessing one of these illnesses and having underdeveloped coping skills and abilities to resist urges for acting out in an aggressive manner can be quite the cumbersome combination when it comes to a youth attempting to manage his or her own behavior. Oftentimes, mental health treatment is needed to help these young people gain the tools needed to prevent future adversities when such behavioral and emotional disturbances are present. Examples of such preventable problems are struggles in academic settings due to acting out, interaction with the legal system as risky behaviors can lead to criminal activity, and poor relationships with peers and loved ones when aggression is a regular occurrence.
Seeking treatment for a youth who exhibits excessive amounts of aggression typically begins with an evaluation with a mental health professional. During this evaluation, the severity of a youth’s aggression is assessed, along with current stressors, existing or potential mental health concerns, and possible causes for said aggression are explored. Once this assessment is complete, options for care are presented to caregivers and the youth so that a determination for treatment can be made. Caregivers and the young person are also provided with the opportunity to ask questions about treatment and discuss the benefits of the child or adolescent receiving a certain type of treatment that will best meet his or her needs.
Among the treatment options currently in existence, inpatient care is one treatment option that has been able to help many young people who struggle to manage aggressive tendencies. Especially for those youth who are battling a mental health condition in which aggression is a symptom, inpatient treatment allows young people to focus strictly on healing and learning skills that can serve them well for a lifetime. Additionally, residential treatment for youth who are aggressive can be especially helpful as aggressive youth can be supervised by qualified, experienced, and compassionate mental health professionals who can monitor a youth’s progress, be an ongoing source of support, and regularly assess each youth’s needs as the therapeutic process is navigated. Psychiatrists and medication services are available in both inpatient treatment and residential care, of which is an advantage for those who require pharmaceutical intervention while receiving treatment. Lastly, caregivers are able to receive guidance from those facilitating a youth’s care by learning new skills and tools for managing their child’s behavior at home. Ultimately, young people who are aggressive come to learn new ways of managing behavior and emotions while receiving exemplary care in the structured settings that are only found in inpatient and residential treatment.