Moodiness in children and adolescents can be due to normal disappointments and everyday stress. In fact, it is critical for young people to face life stressors that challenge them to communicate, negotiate, and problem-solve.
While the majority of kids successfully navigate hard times, some are vulnerable to significant emotional adjustment problems.
Early identification of symptoms is important for successful treatment. Unfortunately, common misperceptions about normal moodiness in kids and teens can interfere with diagnosis. Thus many of our kids may go untreated or under treated for what may be a serious medical condition. Mood disorders differ from average moodiness in both intensity and duration.
Common Symptoms of Depression in Kids
• Ongoing feelings of sadness, anxiety, or emptiness.
• Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.
• Feelings of irritability or restlessness.
• Loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities or hobbies.
• Feeling tired all the time.
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions.
• Inability to go to sleep or stay asleep (insomnia); waking in the middle of the night; sleeping all the time.
• Overeating or loss of appetite.
• Thoughts of or attempts at suicide.
• Ongoing aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems.
When these symptoms are severe, and/or last two weeks or more, it is appropriate to consult with your pediatrician or mental health professional. Current research suggests a prevalence of mood disorders within some families. Therefore, when providing background information it’s useful to report any family history of mood disorders to assist in diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
Depression often coexists with other psychological problems, including anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder, as well as alcohol and other substance abuse or dependence. Anxiety in children is usually characterized by reoccurring fears and worries, consistent feelings that something bad is about to happen, and difficulty focusing and functioning in everyday activities.
Intervention of mood disorders with young people frequently includes counseling. There are two main types of psychotherapy commonly used to treat depression: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT). CBT teaches people to change negative styles of thinking and behaving that may contribute to their depression. IPT helps people understand and work through troubled personal relationships that may cause their depression or make it worse.
For mild to moderate depression, psychotherapy may be the best treatment option. However, for major depression, psychotherapy may not be enough. Current research supports consideration of a combination of medication and psychotherapy for treating serious mood disorders. Parents should always consult their child’s physician regarding any use of medications with children and adolescents.
In the past two decades, mental health professionals have come to better understand the serious consequences of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents. Improved methods for the treatment of mood disorders mean we can reduce the impact of symptoms as well as the likelihood of a reoccurrence.
Through early identification and treatment, living with such mood disorders need not significantly derail our kids and families. Improved methods of detection coupled with enhanced community-based education support an optimistic outlook for our kids’ development of positive identities, effective peer relations, and sustained family involvement. Children are highly resilient, especially given the tools and support to make positive changes in their lives.
Dr. Paul Tobin is a health services psychologist working with adults, adolescents, and families for over 25 years. He is an active member of the American Psychological Association and the Oklahoma Psychological Association. Dr. Tobin works with other licensed mental health professionals in the Edmond-based practice, Offices of Tobin and Benjamin, 405-340-4321, CCOffices.com.