The teenage years can be tumultuous, and many parents of teens wonder whether their child is typical or if they have some type of disorder or mental health issue. To be sure, the typical mood swings, overreactions, and lack of judgment can seem troubling, but they are often simply a sign of adolescence. How can you tell if your teen has a mood disorder or if they are just exhibiting the regular signs of being a teen and going through the sometimes difficult transition to adulthood? Read on for information about mood disorders, typical teenage behavior, and how to tell the difference between the two.
What Are Mood Disorders?
Mood disorders are psychological conditions that lead to the elevation or lowering of a person’s mood over a period of time. Common mood disorders include:
- Bipolar disorder
Seasonal affective disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and postpartum depression are examples of mood disorders that only strike at specific times.
Mood disorders often require treatment. Some mild forms, such as mild depression, might only require lifestyle changes, while severe forms of bipolar disorder, for example, generally require medication and therapy. Many of these mood disorders begin during adolescence, so it is understandable that parents might be concerned that their teen might be developing this type of mental health condition.
Why Do Teenagers Have Mood Swings?
Adolescents are prone to ups and downs, and they are also prone to acting out for their parents and, sometimes, other authority figures. There are several reasons for this.
The first is a sense of frustration. Your teen is too old to act like a child; in fact, you might tell him or her this at times. At the same time, they are not old enough to enjoy all of the freedom of adulthood. This can make them frustrated. For example, your teen might seem to overreact when told that they can’t go somewhere with a friend because they don’t like that you have control over where they can go and who they can be with.
Another reason teens tend to have mood swings is that they are dealing with hormonal surges. Both girls and boys have surges of hormones that can make them feel angry or sad for no apparent reason. Teen girls might tend to be more moody several days before they get their periods each month. Teen boys might seem to have random testosterone surges that cause them to be irritable and angry at times.
Finally, teens are doing the hard work of preparing for adulthood. They have a lot of stress to manage, from schoolwork to college applications, getting a part-time job, keeping up with extracurricular activities, doing their chores at home, and managing their relationships with friends and, in some cases, romantic partners. All of this can add up to irritability or teariness.
These types of mood swings are normal and common. In time, your teen will learn to manage his or her emotions better and you will see fewer mood swings.
When Might Moodiness Indicate a More Serious Problem?
If your teen has a mood disorder, however, the moodiness will not get better over time. Instead of seeing occasional outbursts, you will be seeing them more frequently. Your teen might not be able to get through a day without being overcome by anger, euphoria, or sadness. Depending on the disorder, they might vacillate dramatically between depression and manic behavior or they might be consistently “up” or “down.”
Mood disorders are sometimes linked to suicidal ideation and attempts, so it is important to determine whether your teen is suffering from this type of disorder. You should seek the advice of a physician or mental health professional if:
- Moodiness is affecting your teen’s daily life
- He or she is unable to cope with the demands of school and other obligations
- You are simply concerned that his or her mood swings are outside of what is common among teens
How Can You Help Your Moody Teen?
If your teenager is acting in a typical fashion, there are a few steps you can take to help him or her manage their moods and emotions.
Talk to Your Teen – One way is to simply talk about it. Let them know that you understand how they are feeling; at the same time, set some boundaries. You can set some ground rules, such as no disrespectful behavior, no swearing, and no door-slamming.
Teach Them Time Management Skills – Helping your teen learn time management skills can also help if the problem hinges on stress or activity overload.
Help Them Set Goals – You can also talk about how to set goals and encourage your teen to set both short-term and long-term goals. These goals can help ease frustration when it seems as though they’re not making the progress they’d like to see toward becoming an adult.
Seek Professional Help For a Mood Disorder
If you think that your teen has a mood disorder, make an appointment with their primary care physician. Your family doctor or pediatrician can screen your teen for mood disorders like bipolar disorder or depression. From there, they can refer you to a mental health professional who can help.
Treatments for these types of conditions can include medications as well as therapy. In some cases, family therapy or group therapy can help. Some teens might benefit from a residential program to help them focus on getting better. In these cases, once adolescents can get away from the distractions of their everyday lives, they can usually learn how to handle stressors along with their disorder.
Remember that a mood disorder diagnosis is not a life sentence; these disorders are very treatable, and there is a very high chance that your teen will go on to learn to manage his or her condition while living a fulfilling life. People with mood disorders usually have jobs, raise families, travel, have hobbies, and otherwise find happiness in a productive life. If you are worried about a mood disorder, make an appointment with your teen’s doctor today.