What are Mood Disorders?
Mental health problems ranging from depression to bipolar disorder are known as mood disorders, or affective disorders. In any of these disorders, a serious change in mood shapes your child’s emotional state. Unlike a normal bad mood a child feels occasionally, a mood disorder involves thoughts and feelings that are intense, difficult to manage, and persistent. A mood disorder is a real medical condition, not something a child will likely just "get over” on his own.
Today, clinicians and researchers believe that mood disorders in children remain one of the most underdiagnosed health problems. Mood disorders that go undiagnosed can put kids at risk for other conditions, like disruptive behavior and substance use disorders, that remain after the mood disorder is treated. Children and teens with a mood disorder don’t always show the same symptoms as adults. So it can be difficult for parents to recognize a problem in their child, especially since he or she may not easily express his or her thoughts or feelings.
The most common mood disorders in children and adolescents include:
Girls are at least twice as likely as boys to develop depression. Boys and girls are equally likely to develop bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The causes of mood disorders are not well understood. Imbalances in brain chemicals play a role. Environmental factors, such as unexpected life events and/or chronic stress, can also contribute to a mood disorder.
Mood disorders often run in families, so there is a genetic component, too. Children who have relatives with depression are at increased risk for depression. In addition, a family history of bipolar disorder may predispose a child to have bipolar disorder or other mood disorder.
Sometimes, extreme stress or a life event can “turn on” a gene, causing the disorder to develop. This can happen especially with depression.
Signs and Symptoms
Children show symptoms differently, according to their age and biological makeup. Symptoms also vary according to the type of mood disorder. Overall signs of a mood disorder may include:
If you believe your child is struggling with a mood disorder, you can ask your pediatrician for a referral to a therapist or child psychiatrist. An accurate diagnosis of the mood disorder, as well as any other conditions, is a crucial first step in managing the disorder effectively. At The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a specialist will perform a comprehensive evaluation. The evaluation may assess:
Mood disorders can be treated with evidence-based treatments, especially with early recognition of the problem. Treatment can help manage the episode, reduce the severity of symptoms, and help to prevent future episodes. It can also enhance your child’s normal growth and development and improve his or her quality of life and relationships.
A CHOP specialist will design a personalized treatment plan based on your child’s symptoms and other factors unique to her situation. The plan may include:
The specialist will identify key problems in your child's life and help your child learn how to manage these stressors. The specialist may also use a variety of techniques to help your child manage the symptoms of the mood disorder, including
Families play a vital supportive role in any mood disorder. Families, including parents or guardians, can learn methods to help their child manage mood and behavior problems. The specialist may also explore potential stressors in a child’s life and patterns of interaction within the family. A consultation with your child’s teachers or guidance counselor may also be advised.
Behavioral Self-Regulation and Attention Disorders
General Adaptation Disorder (Adjustment Disorder)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Sleep Terror Disorder
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