Mood disorders, also called affective disorders, are mental health issues that can include serious conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder. Although these conditions have been fairly common among adults, it wasn’t until the 1980s that medical professionals started recognizing the signs of mood disorders in children as well. Still today, mood disorders among children are some of the highest undiagnosed cases in the medical field. This is because mood disorders in children can be particularly difficult to diagnose as children cannot always find a way to communicate what they are feeling or what their symptoms are. Because mood disorders in children are so difficult to diagnose, the initial depression can last well into adulthood and can lead to other more serious conditions such as anxiety disorder or substance abuse problems, and even diabetes.
It’s known that mood disorders are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance affects endorphins, which control good and happy moods, and the neurotransmitters, which regulate the endorphins. It’s believed that when there is any mood disorder in question, it’s either the endorphins or the neurotransmitters that are out of line. But just how this imbalance occurs in children to cause a mood disorder is still largely unknown.
It is known that these mood disorders are often hereditary, meaning that they can be passed down from one or both parents to the child. It’s known that parents who have a mood disorder are at least fifty times more likely to pass the gene onto their children. However, it’s not only genetics that plays a role. There are also many environmental factors that can attribute to mood disorders in children. Environmental factors usually include major life changes such as a move to a new home, divorce between parents, or losing a loved one.
There are many types of mood disorders that can affect children. Major depression is a main form of mood disorder in children. When a child is affected by depression, they usually start to act very sad and will stop playing with other children or lose interest in activities that they once loved. When a child is affected by depression, it’s usually not for longer than a two-week period. However, these periods can often be recurring, meaning that they’ll show up after the initial period has passed.
Manic depression, which is now usually termed “bipolar disorder,” also causes periods of sadness but manic depression is much more intense and severe than major depression. Manic depression also comes with periods of highly elevated feelings, where the child might appear to be quite joyful and happy, only to plunge down into a deep depression after a short period of time. General medical conditions can also cause mood disorders in children. In some cases, children may experience mood disorders while on certain medication or while suffering from a particular condition such as an illness. Usually this type of mood disorder will pass once the medication has been stopped or the illness has passed.
Some of the most common symptoms experienced with mood disorders in children are: continued feelings of sadness; feeling hopeless or helpless; experiencing low self-esteem; feelings of inadequacy; suicidal thoughts; feelings of guilt; problems sleeping; low energy levels; inability to make even small decisions, such as what they would like for lunch; irritability; and feelings of very high aggression.
If any of the above symptoms are experienced by any child, it’s important to have a doctor examine them immediately. A doctor will look at the child’s past medical history, the severity of the child’s symptoms, the type of mood disorder that’s being experienced, a child’s reaction to any medication, and the preferences of the parent. Fortunately mood disorders, even in children, are relatively easy to treat. Antidepressant medication can be prescribed that will help to reestablish a normal chemical balance in the brain. Psychotherapy can also be very effective in changing a child’s thoughts or attitudes towards themselves and in identifying particular stressors in the child’s environment and finding ways to avoid them. Family therapy and consultations with the child’s school are also usually included in any form of treatment for mood disorders in children.
Parents and medical health professionals must take a very active role in the treatment of the child’s mood disorder and be able to spot the early signs so that the problem does not become more severe.