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Does your child cry a lot? Is your child sad most of the time?
Does your child frequently withdraw from others and prefer to spend time alone?
Is your child frequently irritable?

What are Mood Disorders?

  • There are several different types of mood disorders. These include major depression, bipolar disorder, and other disorders that are characterized by a mood disturbance.
    • (a) Children with a mood disorder may act differently than other children their age in several ways. They may seem very sad and/or irritable most of the day almost every day, show little interest in activities they used to enjoy, fail to make expected weight gains, have poor sleep habits (sleeping a lot or very little at night), and/or have difficulty concentrating on things. Further, children may say that they want to hurt or even kill themselves.
    • (b) On the other hand, children with mood disorders also may sometimes be overly confident about their abilities, have a lot of energy without getting much sleep, be very talkative and/or have racing thoughts, become much more active than usual, and/or take part in dangerous activities.

  • Children with mood disorders may show signs of (a) only, (b) only, or both (a) and (b).
  • It is important to note that symptoms of mood disorders may look different in children and adolescents than in adults. For example, children diagnosed with a mood disorder may become very irritable or cranky, while adults diagnosed with a mood disorder are more likely to act very sad. Also, just because children are irritable does not mean they have a mood disorder! For example, many (perfectly normal) children become cranky when they are frustrated and/or do not get their way. Your mental health provider can help you determine whether your child's symptoms are a result of a mood disorder or something (or nothing) else.1

How common are Mood Disorders in children and adolescents?

  • It is difficult to tell how common mood disorders are in children and adolescents, because most surveys have included only adults. However, mood disorders are relatively uncommon in children, but tend to become more common in adolescence. For example, some studies have found that up to 25% of adolescents have qualified for a mood disorder at some point in their life.2
  • Girls are more likely to develop a mood disorder than are boys, particularly in adolescence.1
  • Some studies have found that 7-14% of children will experience an episode of major depression before the age of 15. These studies have also found that 20-30% of adult bipolar patients report having their first episode before the age of 20, and that out of 100,000 adolescents, two to three thousand will have mood disorders out of which 8-10 will commit suicide.3
  • Mood disorders often result from some sort of stress or negative experience in one's life, such as the death of a loved one, and may often be accompanied by substance use and/or abuse.1 However, it is important to consult with a mental health provider as to whether sadness following a negative life event can be diagnosed as a mood disorder or is simply part of the normal grief process.

What can I do if my child has been diagnosed with a Mood Disorder?

1 American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed. rev.). Washington, D. C.: Author.
2 Kessler, R. C., Avenevoli, S., & Ries Merikangas, K. (2001). Mood disorders in children and adolescents: An epidemiologic perspective. Biological Psychiatry, 49, 1002-1014.
3 Retrieved from http://www.narsad.org/news/newsletter/specialreports/archchildmood.html, February 19, 2009.

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