All parents want for their kids is health and happiness. Coming to the understanding that a child might have a mood disorder can be one of the hardest things a caregiver has to face. Equipping yourself and your parenting team with knowledge is one of the first steps in supporting a child who may struggle with a mood disorder.
There’s a real danger in using this article – or any other reputable blog on mood disorders – as a means for diagnosis. This content is by no means meant to serve as a substitute for the diagnosis and the advice of a licensed healthcare professional. Each child’s symptoms and manifestations of a mood disorder will be unique to the child, and therefore require individualized treatment. Seek the help of a medical professional before beginning treatment for any potential mood disorder. The most efficacious treatment for your child will include a team of people: you, your mental health professional, a psychiatrist, a pediatrician and others, all crucial to offering your child the best care available. This article will never replace such an integrative approach, but should rather operate as a starting point for understanding your child, the severity of his or her symptoms and the first steps in setting up your child for success.
What are mood disorders?
Mood disorders are clinically diagnosable conditions that primarily affect behavior and emotional expression in ways that seem contextually inappropriate, and last for an unreasonable period of time. Mood disorders in children include depression, bipolar disorder, disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and more. In some cases, mood disorders are brought on by external factors, such as a concurrent medical condition or substance use.
Although there are several mood disorders, it’s helpful to look for common symptoms present in each. Here are 4 signs to look for if you think your child might have a mood disorder.
1. Strange moods
As suggested by the term “mood disorder,” a significant and severe change in mood is indicative of a child’s need for professional treatment. Although emotional fluctuation is common in children, a child who reacts strangely to normal circumstances, or does not seem to react at all to extreme circumstances, may have a mood disorder. These emotional changes will last for extended periods of time and feel unreasonable. For example, a child who responds to the passing of a family member with tantrums and crying for a few weeks is acceptable, considering the circumstances. However, a child who responds to an insignificant event or no event at all with the same behavior may be suffering from the effects of a mood disorder.
2. Changes in energy or interest levels
Another sign of mood disorders in children is a significant and severe change in energy level. Energy level in this sense may be physical or emotional energy. A child with a mood disorder may be uncommonly lethargic and express no interest in previously enjoyed activities, or have absurd amounts of energy for days at a time. A child may present at either extreme, or oscillate between the two. Most kids go through phases – obsessions with particular toys or a fascination with a certain movie. A kid who does not do this (show interest in previously enjoyed activities or enthusiasm for new hobbies) should be on your radar for a mood disorder.
3. Difficulty concentrating or completing tasks
Children tend to express emotion differently than adults, so manifestations of mood disorders can be more difficult to spot. Kids may express emotion through play, social interaction and school performance. Children who struggle with mood disorders may have difficulty concentrating and/or completing tasks, and this may be more apparent in a school setting. Too often, a mood disorder left undiagnosed and untreated will present as a behavioral problem. If your child is struggling with school or ordinary tasks at home, consider the root of these problems. If you can identify severe or changing moods as a significant barrier to your child’s success, a mood disorder may be present.
4. Physiological symptoms
Even the most self-aware and expressive kids have trouble communicating their emotions. Sometimes, the best way to identify a mood disorder in a child is more easily understood by looking at the child’s behavior. Patterns in sleeping, eating and activity can be especially useful in determining whether a child requires treatment. Inability to sleep or oversleeping, disinterest in enticing foods (chips, candy, ice cream, etc.), overeating, long-term fatigue, days of unrelenting energy with little sleep or hyperfocus beyond what is typical of a child’s age are all evidence for a potential diagnosis. Identifying unusual physical behaviors can help you understand the severity of a mood disorder and the intensity of the intervention required.
What to do about mood disorders in children
The four signs of mood disorders listed above should offer some insight into whether your child may have a mood disorder. Again, this list is not meant to serve as a comprehensive diagnostic tool, but rather as a starting point for further inquiry.
Take your thoughts to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional at Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare. Any inclination that your child has a mood disorder should be discussed, whether your child displays all four of the signs or none of them. Early intervention is important when it comes to mood disorders in children, so you’ll be thankful you talked it over even if it’s determined that treatment isn’t necessary. Call us at (678) 274-4936 today, and you’ll be one step closer to supporting your child in living a healthy, happy life.