The transition to adulthood
The transition to adulthood usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 25. However, it can start as early as 16 and last until after the age of 30.
Transitions, such as entering high school, CEGEP, university or, more broadly, the transition to adulthood, are challenging times. As young people gradually approach adulthood, they generally become more independent, distancing themselves from their parents and investing in more intimate friendships and romantic relationships.
They also learn how to manage their finances and take care of themselves by adopting healthy lifestyle choices.
Young people transitioning to adulthood also face many choices regarding different aspects of their lives, including :
- Education (by choosing a program of study)
- Work (by defining their career trajectory)
- Romantic relationships (by identifying their sexual orientation/what they are looking for in a partner)
- Changing schools (e.g., leaving high school to enter CEGEP), entering the job market and moving (e.g., moving in with a roommate before settling down as a couple) all require effort from young people as they adapt to their new living environments.
- They also often have to balance work, school and social life.
All of these challenges can put young people at greater risk of feeling anxious or depressed.
According to the Canadian Community Health Survey (2012), young Canadian adults are more likely than other age groups to experience high levels of psychological distress. In times of transition, it is particularly important to take care of yourself and your mental and physical health (see p. 38).
Transitioning to adulthood when you have a parent with a mental illness
For young people in this situation, the challenges that come with this stage of life may take on a different colour.
- Their journey toward autonomy may be “rushed” (e.g., when they are required to manage responsibilities that do not correspond to their age) or “delayed” (e.g., when they fear moving away from their parent).
- The creation of a personal identity, central to this stage of life, can be complicated by the multitude of roles that these young people may have to play within their families, including feeling like they are “their parent’s parent,” the fear of “becoming like their parent” and the absence of positive adult role models with whom they can identify.
- Developing a satisfying romantic relationship can be more complicated due to difficulty trusting others, lower self-esteem and less developed social skills.
- Balancing school, work and family can be difficult because of the time, money and energy these young people invest in their parents.
Gender, ethnocultural background, socioeconomic status and other characteristics may add to the challenges these young people face.
Studies show that young women with a parent suffering from a mental illness may have more difficulty developing autonomy because of the supportive role they are expected to play within their family. Some young people from immigrant backgrounds may also face family values that limit their experiences of free self-exploration. Being from a single parent or low-income family may also lead the young person to take on more responsibility (including financial responsibility) to support their parent.
For young people who have a parent with a mental illness, the transition to adulthood can also be a time of turning points and resilience. Creating new social and intimate relationships (especially with a romantic partner), gaining independence from a sometimes-overburdened family environment, engaging in post-secondary education or a challenging job or pursuing meaningful projects all tend to support resilience. For more general strategies on supporting good mental health, see p. 38.
“My mother’s mental illness contributed to my parents’ separation when I entered high school. As a result, I had a lot of behavioural problems starting out and they continued all throughout high school (I was suspended twice from school, once for the entire last semester). I also had a lack of interest in my studies and problems with attendance. So I finished high school in adult education, where I was suspended for a year, again due to poor attendance and lack of interest. Anyway, even if I had the impression that all this did not affect me at that time, with hindsight, I understand I must have been disturbed by what I was experiencing at home. Subsequently, by finding an objective or a goal at school, I completed: a DEC, a baccalaureate, a master’s degree and practically a second master’s degree. So obviously my difficulties in high school were not related to a lack of aptitude.”
For more ways to help you as you get ready to leave home and more, download your free When Your Parent Has a Mental Illness: Tips and Stories from Young People of Quebec guide.
The above was an excerpt from the “When Your Parent Has a Mental Illness: Tips and Stories from Young People of Quebec” guide developed by LaPProche (https://lapproche.uqo.ca) in collaboration with Réseau Avant de Craquer.