mood disorders in children

Understanding Mood Disorders in Children

Children’s mental health is important and is often under examined. One particular area that demands our attention is mood disorders. Mood disorders in children, such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, can have a profound impact on their overall well-being and development. By gaining a deeper understanding of these conditions, we can better support children who are experiencing emotional challenges and ensure they receive the appropriate care.

Let’s explore some of the common types of mood disorders in children, how to identify them, and strategies for promoting mental health and resilience. Together, let’s shed light on this critical issue and work towards a brighter future for our children’s emotional well-being.

Common Types of Mood Disorders in Children

Because mood disorders can significantly impact a child’s life, it’s a good idea to familiarize ourselves with the common types of mood disorders that can affect children. The following are three prevalent mood disorders found in this population:

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a significant mood disorder that can affect children of various ages. Major Depressive Disorder in children presents with a range of symptoms that significantly affect their emotional and behavioral well-being. These symptoms may include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness,
  • irritability,
  • loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities,
  • changes in appetite or sleep patterns,
  • fatigue, difficulty concentrating,
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and
  • recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

MDD is increasingly common amongst young people, and the impact of untreated MDD can be dramatic. Academic performance may decline, and children may struggle with concentration and motivation. Social interactions may become challenging, with decreased interest in activities and withdrawal from peers. Additionally, MDD can lead to physical complaints, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, and a heightened risk of self-harm. Recognizing and addressing these effects is vital to support children’s overall well-being and functioning.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, once thought to be primarily an adult condition, can also affect children and adolescents. This mood disorder is characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy levels, and behavior. Understanding the unique features and challenges of bipolar disorder in children is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective management.

Bipolar Disorder in children exhibits distinct features that set it apart from other mood disorders. Children with Bipolar Disorder experience intense mood swings that include periods of elevated mood known as mania or hypomania, as well as depressive episodes. Manic episodes may manifest as:

  • extreme happiness 
  • increased energy levels 
  • impulsivity 
  • decreased need for sleep 
  • racing thoughts 
  • engaging in risky behaviors 

Depressive episodes involve:

  • persistent sadness 
  • loss of interest 
  • changes in appetite or sleep 
  • fatigue 
  • feelings of worthlessness or suicidal ideation 

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder in children can be complex and challenging. The symptoms of Bipolar Disorder often overlap with other mental health conditions, such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or oppositional defiant disorder. Additionally, the episodic nature of Bipolar Disorder may be mistaken for typical childhood moodiness. Clinicians must carefully evaluate the duration, intensity, and impact of mood symptoms to differentiate Bipolar Disorder from other conditions.

Differences between Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adults

Bipolar Disorder in children often presents differently from the adult form. Children may experience more rapid mood cycling, with mood shifts occurring multiple times within a day. Irritability and aggressive behaviors are common during manic or hypomanic episodes in children, as opposed to the euphoria typically seen in adults. Recognizing these age-specific differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD):

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) is a relatively newly recognized mood disorder that primarily affects children. It is characterized by severe and recurrent temper outbursts that are disproportionate to the situation and inconsistent with the child’s developmental level.

Understanding DMDD and Its Symptoms

DMDD outbursts may be verbal or physical and are often inconsistent with the child’s developmental level. Unlike typical childhood tantrums, DMDD temper outbursts are more severe, occur frequently (three or more times per week), and persist for an extended duration. Between outbursts, children with DMDD may exhibit a persistent irritable or angry mood. Understanding these unique symptoms is crucial for distinguishing DMDD from other mood disorders or disruptive behavior disorders.

Differentiating DMDD from Other Mood Disorders

DMDD has distinguishing features that set it apart from other mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). While Bipolar Disorder involves distinct manic or hypomanic episodes, DMDD primarily manifests as severe and recurrent temper outbursts with chronic irritability. ODD primarily involves defiance and noncompliance without the severe mood dysregulation seen in DMDD. Accurate differentiation is essential for appropriate diagnosis and treatment planning.

Treatment and Interventions for Mood Disorders in Children

Managing mood disorders in children often involves a combination of approaches tailored to the individual’s needs. These may include medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle modifications, and ongoing monitoring and follow-up care.

By employing a comprehensive and individualized approach to treatment we can effectively manage mood disorders in children and provide them with the support they need to thrive.

the road to wellness starts by seeking help. today.

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.

Belong. Heal. Grow. 

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