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Insight into Mood Disorders in Children

written by: Ana M. • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/16/2011

Mood disorders are amongst the most common health problems facing children as they grow up. This article explores the types of mood disorders in children, their effects and the available treatment options.

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    Mood disorders in children are capable of disrupting how they act and behave at home, at school and with friends. They lose interest and pleasure in their day-to-day activities, have low self-esteem and are hypersensitive to rejections or disapprovals. In addition they have difficulty understanding and maintaining relationships and tend to isolate themselves from their family, friends and other acquaintances.

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    Mood Disorders in Children: Types & Their Effects

    Below are some of the types of mood disorders commonly observed in children.

    1. Dysthymia (Dysthymic Disorder)

    This is a chronic disorder, characterized by consistent depressed, irritable mood which normally persists for at least a year. It is a pattern-based disorder, so some days a child is depressed and the other days they can appear as carefree as other children. Some of the symptoms are similar to those of major depressive disorder such as irregular eating and sleep patterns.

    Children experiencing longer episodes of depression usually have poor performance in class and lower grades.

    2. Major Depression

    Major depression is a period of depressive or irritable mood, and symptoms include persistent sadness, irritability, change in eating patterns, weight gain or loss, irregular sleep patterns, and negative thoughts. A single spell of major depression normally lasts for 1-2 weeks, yet it is likely to recur if the person is not treated properly.

    Major depression can suppress mental development, making it difficult for children to adequately express themselves. You can expect bouts of anger, extreme mood swings, misbehavior, disobedience, and other extreme reactions.

    3. Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)

    Although more common in adults, children can suffer from bipolar disorder as well. It is characterized by cyclic mood changes, from manic (aggressive, over-active) to depressive to manic to depressive and so on. This mood switching can be rapid or gradual.

    Bipolar disorder mostly affects a child’s thinking and judgment abilities. It can also lead to embarrassment due to extreme behavior.

    4. Other Types

    a. Illness-induced Depression

    Depression can also be caused by some physical illnesses such as an injury or disease. This type of depression has a variable time span which mostly depends on the length of the illness.

    b. Substance-induced Depression

    Exposure to some drugs and toxins can lead to minor or major depression.

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    Mood Disorders in Children: Treatment

    Mood disorders in children tend to be treated with a combination of medication and some form of psychotherapy.

    1. Medication

    Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are given to children suffering from mood disorders like depression and dysthymia. However, the FDA has placed a black-box warning label on the use of SSRIs for children and teens as the drugs can increase the risk of suicide ideation.

    2. Psychotherapy

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy focuses on changing the behavior and views of a patient. Its premise is that our thoughts create our actions and so if we change our thoughts are actions will change too. CBT helps children with depressive behavior change the way they think and what they do.

    3. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

    In extreme and rare cases where psychotherapy and medication don’t prove to be effective, ECT is considered. However, this treatment is only used for bipolar disorder, and its use on minors is controversial.

    4. Psychoeducational Therapy

    Psychoeducational therapy involves steps to teach children about their problems and how they can be alleviated. The therapy can be one-on-one or with the whole family. Group psychoeducational therapy is intended to teach parents and other family members how to cope with the child’s behavior and depressive or aggressive mood.