Teen mood disorders are characterized by unhealthy changes in mood, usually in the form of depressive or manic symptoms. While mood changes and mood swings within the appropriate context are normal, sudden bouts of extreme sadness or unexplainable liveliness and hyperactivity may hint at a deeper issue.
What Do Mood Disorders Look Like in Teens?
- A mood disorder is characterized by an ongoing difficult emotional state that doesn’t subside, despite not having any clear cause, or despite changed circumstances.
- Teens with mood disorders may exhibit highly negative thinking, consistently low mood, and thoughts of suicide.
- Some teens struggle with both depressive symptoms and manic symptoms, exhibiting uncontrollably excited and agitated behavior, irritability, restlessness, and more. These feelings come and go in waves, usually shifting at least once or twice a year.
Types of Teen Mood Disorders
Major Depressive Disorder – one of the most common types of mood disorders, and often simply referred to as depression, this is characterized by a consistent low mood lasting more than two weeks. Although a depression can be triggered by a sad event, it will outlast said event and cause a person to feel no joy, alongside oppressive feelings of hopelessness and fatigue.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – characterized by a form of depression kickstarted by a lack of sunlight. Some people experience low mood and symptoms of depression in the winter, and suicide rates climb when the sun isn’t out as long.
Bipolar Disorder – characterized by manic episodes and depressive symptoms, bipolar disorder comes in several different forms, including bipolar I and bipolar II. Bipolar I is characterized by manic episodes, while bipolar II is characterized by at least one episode of hypomania (less severe mania), no manic episodes, and depressive thoughts.
Cyclothymic Disorder – a less extreme form of bipolar disorder characterized by milder symptoms of passing depression and mania.
Postpartum Depression – believed to be triggered by hormone changes during and after pregnancy and childbirth, this type of depression is characterized by erratic behavior, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, fatigue, and other depressive symptoms after giving birth to a child.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – characterized by a steady increase in depressive symptoms before and during menstruation.
Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder – characterized by persistent irritability and extreme behavioral decontrol in children and teen up until the age of 18. Other characteristics include violent behavior, abnormal thoughts, and episodic uncontrollable actions.
Persistent Depressive Disorder – a diagnosis of chronic depression lasting two or more years. It is also used to diagnose a mild form of depression, previously known as dysthymia.
What Causes a Teen Mood Disorder?
For a long time, mood disorders were believed to be caused by brain imbalances, and genetic differences in chemical processes within the brain. However, recent research suggests that this is not true, and that differences in neurotransmitters don’t play a role in depressive and manic symptoms as previously thought. Instead, the cause of mood disorders is believed to be biopsychosocial, with a wide variety of possible factors and causes including gut flora and gut microbiology, physical trauma, hormone changes, and more.
Gut flora – research indicates that diseases, environmental factors, and genetic factors that negatively affect the gut may lead to increased chances for a variety of psychological conditions, including anxiety and depression. Stress can also negatively impact the gut and worsen any depressive thoughts. The gut is lined with an extremely complex nervous system and billions of individual microorganisms that usually work in harmony – however, disarray and damage in the gut can lead to problems in the nervous system, causing problems with weight, mood, rest, and other things.
Thyroid problems and hormone changes – hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism both exacerbate and massively increase the risk of a major depressive disorder, as do other diseases and conditions that affect hormone regulation and mood regulation throughout the body and brain.
Trauma and psychological pain – it is not uncommon for a teen with no clear risk factors for depression to develop depressive symptoms and a full blown disorder due to a traumatic event, or due to consistent mental and physical abuse.
How Can I Help with a Teen Mood Disorder?
Understand their condition – do your best to learn more about their diagnosis and how it will affect their life. Know what challenges your teen may have to face as a result of their symptoms. Learn to identify the warning signs and anticipate how they might react to certain events or challenges. The more you know about what your teen is dealing with, the better you can support them and help them work through their various day-to-day challenges and grow stronger, and better-equipped to cope with their disorder.
Be patient – mood disorders are confusing and make no sense. They are built entirely on false premises and thinking that, to anyone sane, looks like extreme self-pitying. But depressive symptoms are real, malicious, and life-threatening. They can convince teens that nothing matters, and that life is meaningless. Depression sucks away every ounce of hope and leaves nothing behind. Sometimes, it can get really bad, and just being there for your teen and making sure they don’t hurt themselves can help. Treatment is not quick or automatic, and progress moves in waves, rather than a perfectly linear path towards improvement. Some days are better, and some days are worse.
Help them maintain a positive lifestyle – there are many things that prevent mood disorders from flaring up or getting worse. A solid, productive, antidepressant lifestyle can help prevent episodes of severe depression, or better manage manic behavior. Encourage your teen to eat healthy, do the things they enjoy, hang out with people that make them happy, and pursue opportunities that speak to their heart. Support them in living their lives out to the fullest and stand behind them to help them overcome every challenge and move past every setback.Video Player
What Types of Teen Mood Disorder Treatment Are Available?
There’s an array of options to help treat the symptoms of mood disorders, depending largely on the severity of the symptoms and the nature of the disorder. Something like major depressive disorder caused by trauma can be more easily treated with therapy than a case of premenstrual dysphoria, which may have to be treated with a dedicated antidepressant lifestyle, and the use of medication.
Talk Therapy – Therapy is the first and largest front against depression. A skilled therapist can help a teen work through their thoughts and identify how they grow and evolve. Depression is known to fester and feed on negative emotions, causing a dark cascade as a teen continues to struggle, faced with issues such as self-loathing and bullying. Helping teens understand and distinguish healthy, positive thinking from flawed, depressive thinking is a big step in the right direction. Helping parents and friends establish a strong support system around the teen is important as well.
Group Therapy – Group or family therapy is crucial for teens who struggle in social settings and cannot communicate or effectively interact with other teens, and other people in general. Mood disorders can be debilitating, leading to problems at school, in the workplace, and life in general. Helping teens manage not only their symptoms but their ability to talk to others is important.
Medication – Antidepressants known as SSRIs help teens with depressive symptoms by boosting the amount of serotonin in their brain through a serotonin reuptake inhibitor. In most healthy people, this has no positive effect and may lead to negative effects, but for people with depressive symptoms, it can help them think more clearly and avoid negative thoughts. Certain mood disorders, such as cases of severe bipolar disorder, may require antidepressants as well as other medication including lithium, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics.
Alternative Therapies – In addition to talk therapy, there is an array of other creative therapies that help them establish healthy new habits and lifestyle choices, or simply help them relax emotionally.
- dietary changes
- non-medical sleeping aids
- music and art therapy
- transcranial magnetic stimulation
Teen Mood Disorder Treatment at Paradigm Treatment
Paradigm Treatment specializes in treating teens through residential facilities specifically built to provide a healing environment away from the usual stresses of day-to-day living. All Paradigm Treatment locations are built around nature, with relaxing ambience, several different amenities to keep teens occupied, and daily schedules centered around therapy and class. Teens learn more about their disorder while learning more about themselves through individual talk therapy sessions, and other forms of treatment.
Away from Stress – The biggest reason to choose a residential treatment program is to get away from the day-to-day and focus entirely on the disorder itself. Environmental factors, including stress from school or the memories of previous mood episodes at home can slow down progress and cause teens to struggle with incorporating what they learn during therapy into their everyday life. By taking the time to stay at a dedicated healing facility, teens are given the break they need to focus entirely on themselves and their disorder and bring home a list of capabilities and exercises to utilize as a way to cope with their condition.
Time with Nature – All Paradigm Treatment locations are chosen for their close proximity to a park, beach, or beautiful location. Teens are encouraged to spend more time outdoors, taking in sunshine and engaging in healthy physical activities. Research shows that just being among trees and taking in the sea breeze can have a significant impact on a teen’s mental health for the better.
The team, knowledge, protocols and community at Paradigm gave us hope when we didn’t think it was possible! Our 16-year has been struggling with anxiety and severe depression and seemed stuck. We felt we had no where else to go. After 40 days, I feel like we’ve gotten our daughter back! Its been an amazing experience. She now has tools, perspective, improved self love and a resilience we haven’t seen in two years. We have much work to do going forward but I can’t express how appreciative we are to have her back, and an opportunity for the future she deserves.
– A parent
Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Mood Disorder
How long will this last and how bad can it get?
There is no way of knowing how long a disorder will last. Some experience symptoms of depression for the rest of their life, while others only experience it briefly, for a few months, or a few years. Some experience flareups, especially after stressful events. No matter what type of disorder you struggle with, a proper treatment plan can help you live a full and normal, productive life.
But it’s important to tackle the problem as soon as possible. The earlier a mood disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better it can be managed. At their worst, mood disorders cause people to commit suicide or harm others through self-destructive behavior.
Is medication mandatory?
No, medication is not mandatory, but it may be highly recommended under certain circumstances. Medication does not make depression and other mood disorders go away, but helps teens manage them more effectively. Sometimes, medication is not helpful, because the condition is best treated through therapy. Sometimes, it can take several different medications until a teen finds one that truly works without side effects.
Is treatment really necessary?
Yes. Mood disorders almost always worsen without treatment, and they are not something to be tackled alone or left unchecked. Many start to realize that they are feeling down, but do not seek help because they think the symptoms are temporary, or because they no longer care enough to get help. The earlier a disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better it can be managed and minimized.