We all feel sad, down, or irritable from time to time and that’s perfectly normal. These changes in our moods are our way to deal with the normal ups and downs of life.
However, some people experience changes in their moods that become so extreme and severe that it affects their everyday emotional state and functioning. When this happens, we say they suffer from a mental health condition called a mood disorder, also sometimes called affective disorder.
What Are Mood Disorders in Teens?
People diagnosed with a mood disorder experience extended periods of time when they feel extremely sad, empty, irritable (depressed), excessively happy (mania), or all of these emotions alternatingly. Those symptoms are usually present for several weeks or longer and are known to affect one’s ability to deal with daily activities, such as work or school.
Rates of Mood Disorders in Children
Your young person, like everyone else, goes through times when they feel sad, down, or irritable. That is very normal. However, do they sometimes have moods that are a little extreme and overwhelming? Do you ever wonder if they may have a mood disorder?
Mood disorders are not uncommon, and quite a few adolescents are diagnosed with them. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in the U.S., an estimated 14.3% of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 have had a mood disorder, and 11.2% of those had severe symptoms that interfered with their daily life.
You may be wondering how to distinguish between a normal “bad mood” and a possible mood disorder in your young person. You should know that preteens and teens may show different symptoms than adults when it comes to mood disorders.
Recognizing Mood Disorder Symptoms & Signs
Here is a list of the most common symptoms to watch out for:
- Ongoing feelings of deep sadness
- Feelings of despair, helplessness, worthlessness, and guilt
- Feelings of wanting to die, suicidal thoughts
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Trouble with relationships, feeling isolated
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Very low energy, fatigue, crying, anxiety
- Problems focusing or making decisions
- Running away from home or threatening to do so
- Being hypersensitive to failure and rejection
- Being overly grouchy, hostile, or angry
These symptoms may indicate that a person is dealing with a mood disorder, but they don’t indicate which mood disorder. It’s important for a trained mental health professional to conduct an evaluation in order to identify they are indeed suffering from a mood disorder, and if they are, which one.
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A List of Mood Disorders
Here is a list of the most common types of mood disorders. Symptoms will vary from one young person to the next and can range from mild to severe.
Major Depressive Disorder
Preteens and teens with this disorder have chronic feelings of sadness or worthlessness, irritability, physical lethargy, and possible suicidal thoughts that last for at least two weeks.
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
Preteens and teens with dysthymia have long-lasting, low grade, depressed, or irritable moods for at least one year.
Preteens and teens with bipolar disorder have bouts of major depression and periods of mania (e.g., euphoria, poor judgment, extreme risk-taking activities,or times of flat or dulled emotional response), in a frequently debilitating cycle.
Mood Disorder Related to Another Health Problem
Certain medical conditions such as cancer, infections, or chronic illnesses can trigger depression symptoms in young people.
Substance-Induced Mood Disorder
In this case, depression symptoms are caused by the effects of medicine, drug abuse, alcoholism, or exposure to toxins.
Does My Teen Have a Mood Disorder? How Are Mood Disorders Diagnosed?
Maybe you recognized your young person in some of the mood disorder symptoms. If that’s the case, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a mood disorder, just that they should probably see a trained mental health professional who will be able to identify if they do.
Mood disorders do not go away on their own. If left unaddressed and untreated they might get worse over time, and create more unnecessary pain and suffering. With the right treatment, however, your young person’s mood can stabilize and over time they can return to a healthy level of functioning so they can fully enjoy their life again.
Compassionate and effective communication with your young person is going to be key in showing them that you care about them and that you want to support them. Talking to your young person about how they feel can be a challenging and intimidating task, but it is also a vital part of helping them cope with their difficulties so they can heal.
9 Tips to Help Your Young Person Live With a Mood Disorder
As you work on establishing compassionate and caring communication, it’s important that you be there for them in other ways. Encourage them every way you can to practice self-care and to be kind to themselves. This is crucial to their well-being and long-term recovery. Here are a few suggestions you can communicate to them on how they can learn to practice self-care.
1. Build Their Support Network
Encourage them to reach out to people they feel will be supportive of them besides you. This can be a family member, a school counselor, a peer, their place of worship, or a community support group.
There are different people who can relate to how they are feeling and who can support them. Talking to someone who listens will make them feel understood and more capable of coping. It’s essential that your young person knows they are not alone.
2. Create a Toolkit of Things That Lift Them Up
Surrounding your tween or teen with people and activities they enjoy is an effective way to feel supported, secure, and less upset and anxious about things. Making an effort to stay active and involved in the things that give them joy, no matter how simple these are, will be uplifting for them and something they can look forward to.
3. Manage Negative Emotions
Lead by example and show them that choosing to adopt a positive attitude is a great way to keep their mind off the things that may upset or worry them. Our brain cannot both worry and think positively at the same time. It’s just not wired for it.
4. Focus on Self-Care
Explain to your young person that their body and mind have the capacity to feel peaceful and to develop coping strategies. For this to happen, however, they need three simple yet very important things: enough sleep and rest, healthy eating habits, and plenty of exercise.
5. Reduce Their Stress
Motivate them to lower their stress levels by having them set priorities, avoid procrastination, simplify their expectations, and always ask for help when they are overwhelmed.
6. Set a Routine
Having a routine (e.g., laying out clothes the night before, following meal schedules, dimming the lights, and turning off electronics before bed) can make them feel grounded and prepared.
Encourage your young person to write their feelings and thoughts in a journal. Doing so may help them reflect on their concerns and explore healthy options. It can also be calming to them to write their objectives, reminders, and to-do’s down so that those don’t linger in their mind.
8. Avoid Substances
Substances, such as drugs and alcohol, can exacerbate their symptoms.
Boost Their Self-Confidence
Doing things such as exercising, eating healthy, helping others, and participating in an activity they are good at can boost their self-image, self-esteem, and sense of self-worth. They need to learn to do things that make them feel good about themselves.
When to Call a Health Provider for My Teen With a Mood Disorder
It’s very important that you become your preteen’s or teen’s advocate and help them find a mental health professional whose job it is to support preteens and teens who struggle with mood disorders and/or depression.
Once again, mood disorders don’t go away on their own. Adequate professional support will play a crucial role in your young person’s recovery and will help them return to the life they love and enjoy.
More Support for Mood Disorders
There are several other resources you can share with your young person. Let your young person know that they can reach out for help through them to find immediate support if need be.
National Alliance on Mental Health: 1 (800) 950-6264
The compassionate staff at NAMI are trained to help you manage a mental health crisis and understand the struggles people with bipolar disorder face.
Crisis Text Line: Text “CONNECT” to 741741
This helpline provides support through text messages during crisis situations OR if you just want to talk because you are feeling angry, frustrated, scared, or hurt because of a bipolar episode.
Covenant House Teen Hotline: 1-800-TLC-TEEN (852-8336)
1-310-855-HOPE (4673) or text “TEEN” to 839863
Boys Town National Hotline: 1-800-448-3000
This hotline is for all teenagers struggling with any kind of crisis. It’s available 24/7.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357
This helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance disorders.
Teen Tribe: This website provides peer-to-peer group support for teens who go through challenging times. This is a free service. https://support.therapytribe.com/teen-support-group/
ADAA Directory: This website allows teens and family members to search support groups in their local area, as well as phone or online groups. https://adaa.org/supportgroups
*If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. You can also reach a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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