From Depression to Bipolar, Mood Disorders are No Longer Just for Adults

Traditionally, the field of psychology saw major mood disorders as existing in adults only. However, today, those disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder, are seen in adolescents. In fact, recent studies have found that as many as 15%-18% of teens have experienced a mood episode by age 18.


A mood episode is either an experience of a very low mood, such as depression, or a very high mood, such as mania. There is also the experience of hypomania, which is also considered to be a mood episode and is a less severe form of mania. Depression is a consistent or regular periods of low mood and Bipolar Disorder is the oscillation between a low mood and high mood. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Bipolar Disorder (BD) are common mood disorders.


Vilma Gabbay, Director of the Pediatric Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at Mount Sinai Hospital points out that “The risk factors are a family history of mood disorders, a tendency toward anxiety, and stressors like trauma and bullying. Stress itself can trigger a mood disorder, not in everyone, but in many teens.”


Dr. Vilma Gabbay, is a psychiatrist who specializes in treating mood and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents, ranging from depression to bipolar disorder. The symptoms of mania and depression come with different symptoms. “Depression,” says Vilma Gabbay can come with experiences of “sadness, tearfulness, diminished capacity to enjoy pleasurable activities, irritability and physical symptoms including increased or decreased appetite, sleep disturbances and fatigue.” Teens who have Bipolar Disorder have these same symptoms but added to this are the experiences of manic or hypomanic episodes. These include “high feeling of irritability, decreased need of sleep, increased energy, behaving strangely in the classroom, impulsivity, being more talkative, and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities,” says Gabbay. Sadly, in severe cases, mania can cause psychosis and distorted thinking.


Generally speaking, one in four Americans face mental illness in any given year, and around 5% of teens have a mood disorder. Interestingly, mood disorders, although traditionally seen in adulthood, actually begin to show symptoms in adolescence. This is particularly true because of the changes that are taking place in the brain along with the rush of hormones that teens experience.


The prevalence of mood disorders is around 3 to 5 percent for both boys and girls alike. However, when children enter into adolescence, girls are more at risk for experiencing a mood disorder. In fact, female teens are twice as likely to exhibit signs and symptoms of mood disorders. One reason for this is the way that females respond to emotional stimuli. Females tend to mature faster than males regarding their ability to regulate their emotions. They also tend to have a heightened sensitivity towards emotions, which might be a trigger for anxiety and depression.


Dr. Vilma Gabbay makes the following recommendations for parents to share with their teens and for teens who want to learn:


  • Look at The National Alliance for Mental Illness website (nami.org) for excellent information on mental illness.
  • Don’t be ashamed of your mental illness. Instead, focus on getting the help you need. “A psychiatric disorder is a medical disorder that can kill,” says Gabbay. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, but parents and teens need to seek help.”
  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is an essential component to mental health. Sleep deprivation is associated with mood disorders, so be sure to get at least eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Exercising for 20-30 minutes, four to five times a week, and staying away from drugs and alcohol can help prevent depressive and manic episodes.


Most importantly, get the support you need by calling upon the support of a mental health professional for mood disorder, bipolar disorder or depression treatment.