Mood Disorders in Teens

What are mood disorders in teens?

Mood disorders are a group of
mental health problems. They are sometimes called affective disorders. These are the
most common types:

  • Major depression. A teen with this type has a depressed or
    irritable mood, along with other signs, for at least 2 weeks. He or she may also lose
    interest or pleasure in normal activities.
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). A teen with
    this type has a long-lasting, low-grade, depressed or irritable mood for at least 1
    year.
  • Bipolar disorder. This type causes a mix of manic episodes
    and depressed periods, or times of flat or dulled emotional response.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. A teen with this
    type has ongoing grouchiness. He or she has a hard time controlling behavior.
  • Premenstrual dysmorphic disorder. This type causes
    depressive symptoms, grouchiness, and tension before a menstrual period.
  • Mood disorder caused by a health problem. Many conditions
    can trigger symptoms of depression. These include cancer, injuries, infections, and
    chronic illnesses.
  • Substance-induced mood disorder. These are depression
    symptoms from the effects of medicine or other forms of treatment, drug abuse, or
    exposure to toxins.

What causes mood disorders in a teen?

What causes mood disorders in teens
is not well known. Certain chemicals in the brain are responsible for positive moods.
Other chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) control the brain chemicals that affect
mood. Mood disorders may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This can happen
on its own. Or it can happen along with environmental factors, such as unexpected life
events or long-lasting stress.

Mood disorders can run in families.
Researchers believe that many factors play a role. The factors that produce the trait or
condition are often both inherited and environmental. They include a mix of genes from
both parents. If a mother passes a mood disorder trait to her children, a daughter is
more likely to have the disorder. If a father passes a mood disorder trait to his
children, a son is more likely to have the disorder.

Which teens are at risk for mood disorders?

Anyone can feel sad or depressed at
times. But mood disorders are more intense. They are harder to handle than normal
feelings of sadness. Teens who have a parent or other relative with a mood disorder have
a greater chance of also having a mood disorder. It is not definite that this will
happen. But hard life events and stress can expose or exaggerate feelings of sadness or
depression. This makes the feelings harder to manage.

Sometimes life’s problems can cause
depression. Hard situations for a teen include:

  • A parent losing a job
  • Parents getting divorced
  • A death in the family
  • Family having money problems

It can be hard for a teen to cope
with these situations. These stressful life events can bring on feelings of sadness or
depression. Or they can make a mood disorder harder to manage. It depends on your teen’s
coping skills and their ability to rebound from rough times.

What are the symptoms of mood disorders in a teen?

Teens don’t always have or show the
same symptoms as adults. It’s harder to spot mood disorders in children and teens.
That’s often because they are not always able to say how they feel.

Teens may show different symptoms
than adults or small children. It depends on their age and the type of mood disorder.
These are the most common symptoms:

  • Ongoing feelings of sadness
  • Feelings of despair, helplessness, or
    guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of not being good enough
  • Feelings of wanting to die
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
    or activities once enjoyed
  • Trouble with relationships
  • Sleep problems, such as insomnia
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • A drop in energy
  • Problems focusing or making
    decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as
    headache, stomachache, or extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Running away or making threats of
    running away from home
  • Sensitivity to failure or
    rejection
  • Being grouchy, hostile, or angry

In mood disorders, these feelings
seem stronger than teens normally feel from time to time. It is also of concern if these
feelings last over a period of time. Or if they interfere with a teen’s interest in
being with friends or taking part in daily activities at home or school. Contact your
teen’s healthcare provider right away if your child expresses any thoughts of suicide.
Don’t leave your teen alone.

Other signs of possible mood
disorders in teens may include:

  • Poor performance in school
  • Constant anger
  • Rebellious behaviors
  • Trouble with family
  • Trouble with friends and peers

These symptoms may seem like other
conditions or mental health problems. Make sure your teen sees his or her healthcare
provider for a diagnosis.

How are mood disorders diagnosed in a teen?

After your teen’s healthcare
provider does a full physical exam to rule out any other health condition, a mental
health provider may diagnose a mood disorder. This is based on a complete mental health
evaluation. He or she may also evaluate the family and talk with teachers and
caregivers.