Mood Disorders In Children: 7 Signs To Look Out For

Anger, attitude and anxiety – are these normal teen behaviours or something else? Read on to know all about mood disorders and learn how to identify them.

By Aarthi Arun

Mood Disorders In Children: 7 Signs To Look Out For

The teenage years are a crucial time in your child's life because that is when she is creating an identity for herself. Thanks to her newfound independence, your teen will try to test her limits. Add the growth spurts and raging hormones to that, you have the typical teen behaviour — teen tantrums, mood swings and a rebellious attitude. While it is normal for your teen to be moody and angry, this is the also the age when youngsters are vulnerable to mood disorders. 

What is a mood disorder?

Mood disorder collectively refers to many conditions like Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder and Persistent Depressive Disorder. It can also occur due to certain medical conditions and substance abuse. It can have a severe impact on your child's emotions and mental health even leading to depression, thus affecting the quality of her life. But, most of the times, mood disorders in children go unnoticed because we tend to assume that it is normal teen behaviour.

“Mood disorders can be chronic, pervasive and disabling and it is definitely on the rise in current times. Some known causes of mood disorders are chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics, stressful life events or trauma and substance abuse. But, one of the more recent cause is the unhealthy, fast-paced lifestyle of teens. An unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, unhealthy levels of competitiveness, lack of social interaction, overuse of monitors and the Internet are contributing factors,” says Dr Rani Susan Abraham, a psychologist from Bengaluru.*

Since adolescents are vulnerable to mood disorders, parents and caregivers have to be on high alert as these conditions are tougher to diagnose among teenagers than in adults.

Here are top 7 signs to watch out for

  1. Extreme mood swings: Teenage is a time when your child goes through an array of physical and psychological changes. So, mood swings are normal during teen years. Your child may be bursting with energy one moment, shedding tears the next and soon be red with rage, which is okay up to a certain point. However, look at the severity and duration of the disruptive behaviours. Also, check if your child behaves similarly at school. If your child's mood swings last for more than two weeks or if they are interrupting his everyday life, seek a professional opinion from a counsellor.
  2. Difficulty making and keeping friends: One of the main symptoms of a mood disorder is social withdrawal. If you see your child moving away from her friends and spending more time alone, it should ring alarm bells. With mood disorders, your child will also lack the necessary emotional skills to connect with another person and become friends.
  3. Loss of interest in academics and usual activities: When your child is suddenly getting lower grades or stops showing interest in his hobbies, there may be something going on. Your teen may have poor self-esteem or can have an intense sensitivity to failures. If he seems overwhelmed with his life, he most likely needs help.
  4. Lack of concentration: A child suffering from depression may not be able to focus on a task at hand. She may also struggle with memory and find it hard to think clearly or make decisions. In addition, your teen may be showing obsessive behaviour like hand-wringing, pacing, etc.
  5. Excessive or lack of sleep: The frequent mood swings and loneliness can be taxing on a child with a mood disorder. So, it will not be uncommon to see him sleeping excessively. On the other hand, your child can also suffer from lack of sleep because of anxiety; this is a common symptom in mood disorders.   
  6. Frequent physical complaints like aches and pains: Mood disorder is a psychological complaint, but at times, it can manifest itself in the form of physical symptoms. If your child is complaining of tiredness, stomach ache or muscular pain often without any identifiable cause, don't hesitate to check with your doctor.
  7. Threats of suicide or running away from home: Even if the threats may seem exaggerated, don't brush them off, especially if your child is using it frequently. Also, pay attention to other problematic signs like violent behaviour and self-harm.
“If a child is diagnosed with a mood disorder, it is important that the parents first reach a level of acceptance and calmness before they can help the child. This includes educating themselves about the disorder and seeking counselling support for themselves. Unconditional love, positive regard, compassion and generous support from the parents will go a long way to hasten the child on the road to recovery,” says Dr Rani.

Parents need to remember that they should be patient and helpful when a child shows symptoms of a mood disorder. It can be frustrating to deal with a moody child. But, parents have to keep in mind that there is a reason why children act moody and then, deal with the situation accordingly.

*With inputs from Dr Rani Susan Abraham, a psychologist from Bengaluru.   

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