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Learning About Mood Disorders in Children

What are mood disorders?

Mood disorders are a health problem. They can cause big changes in how your child feels and behaves. All kids have strong emotions or tantrums sometimes. But mood disorders involve intense, distressing emotions that don't go away. Those emotions affect your child's everyday life.

What are the types of mood disorders in children?

The different types of mood disorders in children include:

  • Major depressive disorder. Your child feels grouchy, down, or sad, or has a loss of interest in most activities, lasting for at least 2 weeks.
  • Persistent depressive disorder. Your child has a depressed or grouchy mood more days than not, lasting for at least a year.
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Your child:
    • Is very grouchy in many settings. For instance, this may happen at school, at home, or with friends.
    • Has frequent and severe outbursts. These may be verbal or physical.
    • Has a grouchy or angry mood for most of the day, nearly every day.
  • Bipolar disorder. Your child has extreme mood changes. Their moods cycle between very high energy and extreme lows of depression. Not all experts agree on what should be the minimum age for diagnosing bipolar disorder.

What are the symptoms?

Children may have different symptoms. Symptoms can also vary depending on the type of mood disorder and the age of your child.

Emotional symptoms include:

  • A depressed or grouchy mood most of the time. Younger children may describe this as feeling "grumpy" or "sad."
  • Not enjoying things they used to enjoy.
  • Avoiding friends and social events.
  • Struggling in school or refusing to go to school.
  • Not getting along with family members.
  • Frequent temper outbursts.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
  • Thoughts of suicide. These need immediate attention. Seek help from a trusted professional (like a doctor, counsellor, therapist, or nurse) right away.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Changes in appetite or weight.
  • Changes in sleep. This can include not sleeping, sleeping too much, or irregular sleeping and waking schedules.
  • Physical complaints (like a headache or stomach ache) with no obvious cause.
  • Unusual bursts of energy or excitement.
  • Talking too fast or too loud, or jumping from topic to topic.
  • Feeling tired or having low energy.
  • Moving and talking more slowly than usual.
  • Risky behaviour, like illegal substance use, violence, or early sexual activity.

How are mood disorders treated?

Mood disorders in children are usually treated with counselling, medicines, or both. Treatment may vary based on your child's symptoms and age. Don't be discouraged if you need to try more than one treatment. Sometimes it can take some time to find the type of treatment that works best for your child.

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