The teen brain: Mysteries and misconceptions

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The teen brain: Mysteries and misconceptions

By Knowable Magazine

It may be difficult for older adults to fathom, but today’s teenagers have never lived in a world where depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders weren’t rife — and on the rise — among their peers. Just a few decades ago, many psychiatrists thought depression was a condition that affected only adults. Now we know better: Researchers think more than half of mental health disorders, including depression, begin by age 14.

The teenage years are a dynamic period of brain development, when neuronal connections undergo intense remodeling and pruning. This flexibility allows teenagers to learn quickly and adapt to a changing environment, but it can also make them vulnerable. Many questions have yet to be answered, such as why the risk of mental illness increases severalfold during adolescence, why some teens appear more resilient to mental health problems than others, and when the brain should be considered “mature.”

On Wednesday, April 26, join leading neuroscientist BJ Casey and teen mental health advocate Diana Chao for a conversation with Knowable Magazine and Annual Reviews about the teen brain’s unique strengths and challenges, and why many experts have declared a global mental health emergency in children and adolescents. We’ll talk about what adults can do to support the teenagers in their lives — and crucially, how teens can help one another.

BJ Casey, Neuroscientist, Barnard College-Columbia University

BJ Casey is the Christina L. Williams Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Neuroscience and Behavior at Barnard College-Columbia University. She pioneered the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the developing human brain, particularly during adolescence. Her scientific discoveries have been published in top-tier journals, including Science, Nature Medicine, Nature Neuroscience and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She has received the Association for Psychological Science Lifetime Achievement Mentor Award and the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.

Diana Chao, Mental health activist and founder of Letters to Strangers

Diana Chao founded Letters to Strangers (L2S) when she was a sophomore in high school after bipolar disorder and a blinding condition nearly ended her life. Today, L2S is the largest global youth-for-youth mental health nonprofit, impacting over 35,000 people annually on six continents and publishing the world’s first youth-for-youth mental health guidebook for free. Chao has been honored by two US presidents at the White House and named a 2021 Princess Diana Legacy Award Winner, a 2020 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth and a 2019 Oprah Magazine Health Hero. Chao studied geosciences at Princeton University and works as a climate scientist for Kinetic Analysis Corporation.

Emily Underwood, Science Content Producer, Knowable Magazine

Emily Underwood has been covering science for over a decade, including as a neuroscience reporter for Science. She has a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University, and her reporting has won national awards, including a 2018 National Academies Keck Futures Initiatives Communication Award for magazine writing.

This event is part of an ongoing series of live events and science journalism from Knowable Magazine and Annual Reviews, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to synthesizing and integrating knowledge for the progress of science and the benefit of society.

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