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Mood Disorders

What are mood disorders?

Children and adolescents may not experience the same symptoms of mental illness as adults. It is more difficult to diagnose mood disorders in children, especially because children may not be able to adequately express how they feel. Mood disorders in children may also put them at risk for other conditions that may continue after the initial episodes of depression are resolved, such as substance abuse disorders and physical illnesses.

The following are the most common types of mood disorders experienced by children and adolescents:

  • Major depression – a two-week period of a depressed or irritable mood or a noticeable decrease in interest or pleasure in usual activities, along with other signs of a mood disorder.
  • Dysthymic disorder – a chronic, low-grade, depressed or irritable mood for at least one year.
  • Bipolar disorder – at least one episode of a depressed or irritable mood and at least one period of a manic (persistently elevated) mood.
  • Is physically cruel to people or animals
  • Mood disorder due to a general medical condition – many medical illnesses (including cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic medical illnesses) can trigger symptoms of depression.
  • Substance-induced mood disorder – symptoms of depression that are due to the effects of medication, exposure to toxins, or substance abuse.

What are the symptoms of mood disorders?

Children may exhibit different symptoms of depression. The following are the most common symptoms of a mood disorder. However, each child and adolescent may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopeless or helpless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Excessive guilt
  • Feelings of wanting to die
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Loss of interest in usual activities or activities once enjoyed
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Sleep disturbances (i.e., insomnia, hypersomnia)
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Decreased energy and difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent physical complaints (i.e., headache, stomach ache, fatigue)
  • Running away or threats of running away from home
  • Hypersensitivity to failure or rejection
  • Irritability, hostility, aggression, constant anger
  • Difficulty achieving in school
  • Rebellious behaviors

In mood disorders, these feelings appear more intense than adolescents might normally experience. Any adolescent who expresses thoughts of suicide should be evaluated immediately.

How are mood disorders diagnosed?

Mood disorders are not something a child will likely just “get over.” A child psychiatrist or other mental health professional usually diagnoses mood disorders following a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. An evaluation of the child’s family in addition to information provided by teachers and care providers may also be helpful in making a diagnosis.

Treatment for mood disorders:

Specific treatment recommendations for mood disorders should be based on a child’s age, overall health, and medical history, the extent of symptoms, the type of mood disorder. Recommendations should also be based on the child’s tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies, expectations for the course of the condition, and preference. Mood disorders can often be effectively treated. Treatment recommendations may include antidepressant medications, consultation with the child’s school, psychotherapy for the child, and family therapy.

Parents play a vital role in any treatment process. The best defenses against mood disorders are early detection, education about symptoms, contacting trained professionals and keeping the communication lines open with the child. The future can be bright.

For more information on mental health services available for children and adolescents, click on the links below:

TPC Children’s Services
| TPC STAR Program |