mood disorders

The Path to Understanding Mood Disorders

January 7, 2022

Many teens struggle with mental health challenges. Mood disorders are one such challenge that is frequently seen in adolescents and teens. However, mood disorders present a challenge for parents and caregivers. The teen years are a time of changing stressors and frequent (sometimes drastic) changes in mood for many youths. It can be difficult for parents to determine whether the mood swings their child experiences are part of a normal and healthy development process or a sign of a potential mood disorder. Although mood swings are an expected part of childhood development, the natural development process can be more complex and challenging when your teen has a mood disorder. 

The statistics behind the challenges teens with a mood disorder face are troubling. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology suggests that mental health challenges continue to plague adolescents and teens at consistently rising rates. Data from the reports show that between 2007 and 2017, major depression diagnoses among teens (ages sixteen and seventeen) increased by nearly 70%. For teens and young adults between ages seventeen and twenty-five, the rate was over 71%. The report also indicated that 20% (or one out of every five) of teen girls between ages twelve and seventeen experienced major depression during the previous year. Data from the same report indicated the rate of suicide in teens increased by 56% between 2008 and 2017. 

Since 2012, teen depression and bipolar disorder have increased significantly. Recent data shows that more than 11% of teens experienced symptoms of a depressive episode during the last year. Also, more than 14% of teens currently have depression or a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Unfortunately, these ongoing struggles with mental health have contributed to the increased rates of teen substance use and suicide. In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for teens. According to a 2016 study, almost half of teens who struggle with a mental health condition will be at increased risk for developing a  substance use disorder if their mental health is condition is left untreated. 

What are Mood Disorders? 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) Fifth Edition provides the diagnostic criteria needed to help mental health providers accurately assess the presence of a mood disorder. The most recent version of the DSM, released in 2013, categorizes mood disorders into two groups; bipolar disorders and all forms of depression. 

Mood disorders can affect anyone at any age. However, data indicates they are highly prevalent among adolescents and teens. It is also important to remember that the symptoms of a teen or young adult’s mood disorder may be different from those seen in adults struggling with depression or another mood disorder diagnosis. Therefore, if you are concerned your teen has a mood disorder, it is essential to seek help at a teen-focused treatment center like Hillcrest, where the staff understands the unique nature of teenage mood disorders and their treatment. 

Commonly Diagnosed Mood Disorders

The path to understanding mood disorders requires knowing what mood disorders are, what the symptoms of a mood disorder may be, and how they are treated as part of a mental health treatment program for teens. As previously noted, the category of “mood disorders” is divided into two smaller groups. These groups include diagnoses for major depressive disorders, Bipolar I, and Bipolar II disorders. Although each diagnosis is different, each “type” of mood disorder also shares common symptoms with the others. 

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder is also called major depression or clinical depression. The DSM lists the criteria for major depressive disorder as having symptoms of depression including extreme hopelessness, sadness, and emptiness for more than two weeks. These symptoms must also lead to a notable (significant) impairment in your teen’s daily functioning. 

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I (previously manic depression) is characterized by manic phases. A person with Bipolar I will have alternating states of high energy, activity, and euphoria followed by irritability and lethargy. During manic phases, a teen with Bipolar I may participate in activities that harm themselves or those around them. Unfortunately, stages of mania often lead to a disconnect between actions and consequences. Because of this disconnect, a teen struggling with manic symptoms may not fully understand their actions’ hurtful or harmful effects on themselves or others.

Bipolar II Disorder

A Bipolar II diagnosis requires one to experience at least one episode of hypomania in addition to other bipolar symptoms. Hypomania is described as a less severe form of mania. They must also experience a bout of depression. This does not have to be present-day depression; it can occur at any time in the past or currently. Bipolar II disorder requires that your teen not have a history of manic episodes.

Recognizing Teenage Mood Disorders

Teenage mood disorders will present with various physical and emotional symptoms. But because adolescents and teens are at a different stage in development when compared to adults, their symptoms may appear different and be more challenging to recognize. This is especially true for younger children as they may lack the vocal or cognitive ability to adequately explain what they are feeling. While adults can define their emotions, they often struggle to acknowledge their mental health concerns. 

Teens typically fall somewhere in between. Although they can often successfully verbalize or explain their symptoms and emotions, they may not understand them well enough to believe or know something is wrong. The mood disorder symptoms in teens will depend on the individual and the type of disorder. Although some symptoms are unique, others are seen across most diagnoses. 

Mood disorder symptoms are behavioral, emotional, and physical. If your teen has a mood disorder, they may complain of recurring physical problems such as headaches, stomach pains, or fatigue. You may also notice changes to their sleeping patterns, reduced energy levels, and unexplained change in diet and weight. 

Mood disorders cause behavioral changes as well. You may notice your teen seems “out of sorts” compared to their usual personality. They may also feel guilt, sadness, despair, and reduced self-esteem. Your teen may no longer enjoy spending time with social groups or participating in activities they once enjoyed. A teen with a mood disorder may struggle to focus on tasks and appear disorganized. Your teen may also talk of suicide, self-harm, or express feelings of worthlessness. If this occurs, you must seek medical intervention immediately. 

The emotional symptoms of teenage mood disorders often vary in intensity and severity. If your teen’s symptoms persist for more than two weeks and significantly interfere with their ability to carry out daily responsibilities, seeking treatment at a program like Hillcrest may help. 

Many of the symptoms of teenage mood disorders are similar to those of other mental health conditions. Your child’s primary care provider or a treatment professional at Hillcrest can work with you and your teen to rule out possible medical or mental health challenges before recommending a treatment plan. 

Seeking Help for Teenage Mood Disorders

Treatment for mood disorders in all age groups combines psychotherapy and (sometimes) medications. Talk therapy is considered the most successful form of therapy used in mood disorder treatment. Widely used forms of talk therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).

Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is often used for a wide range of mental health conditions, including mood disorders and addiction treatment. CBT is considered the most widely researched therapy for mood disorders. As part of a CBT session, your teen will work with their provider to learn how their actions, feelings, and thoughts contribute to their symptoms. As they know more about these connections, they will work with their therapist to learn new ways to change harmful or unhelpful thoughts to healthy ones. 

Dialectical behavior therapy or DBT is helpful for teens who struggle to manage and regulate emotion. DBT sessions are designed to help your teen learn healthy and safe ways to manage stressful or upsetting emotions while improving relationships with family and friends. They also practice controlling impulsive behaviors, including self-harm.

Other forms of psychotherapy used to treat mood disorders are interpersonal therapy, problem-solving therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions. 

For some teens, medications may also play a role in their treatment plan. It is important to remember that medications are not ideal for all teens and are not included in all treatment plans. Your teen’s treatment team will discuss with you and your teen how or if specific medications may help to alleviate the difficulties associated with some symptoms, especially in the early days of treatment. Medicines that may be used to help manage mood disorder symptoms include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic drugs. These medications may help control aggression, mood swings and reduce the intensity of depression. 

Medications are not considered a long-term solution for symptom management. In most cases, they are prescribed for a brief duration during the earliest stages of treatment when symptom management is the most complex and challenging. 

Although treatable, teenage mood disorder symptoms may persist for many years. In some cases, mood disorder symptoms may be life-long challenges requiring occasional therapeutic intervention. As part of a comprehensive treatment program at Hillcrest, your teen will learn the tools and skills they need to manage mood disorder symptoms throughout their lives. Because mood disorders affect everyone differently, individualized (person-specific) treatment is an essential part of achieving lasting health and wellness.

If you are concerned that your teen may struggle with a mood disorder, let the team at Hillcrest guide them towards recovery. While mood disorder recovery is not always easy, we can help. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about our teen-focused Los Angeles area treatment center.

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