Mood Disorders? In Childhood? Yes!!


First a disclaimer: Although I have a Ph.D. in psychology, none of what I write here is meant to diagnose, evaluate or meant to be more than  informational or educational.

This issue most always comes up when I teach a class on human  development – so here is my long post on the topic!

What are mood disorders?

According to the DSM-IV [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition] mood disorders are “disorders that have a disturbance in mood as the predominant feature.”  While this may sound like an odd definition – it is a common way to define terms in the realm of mental health.  [Like IQ is what the IQ Test measures.]

Mood disorders include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder and a person needs to be diagnosed by a professional who uses the DSM-IV as the guide to determine if that person meets the criteria for the particular disorder.  [And even within a diagnosis there are features and causes that can be further classified.]

Many disorders are not clearly seen until a child is nearing adolescence – but signs and symptoms can be seen earlier – even if the child does not meet the full criteria for the disorder.

It is also possible we don't "see" this as a problem because we have some cultural reluctance to see young children or teens as depressed or suicidal. 

Added to this is that teenagers often go through what I call a “period of normal craziness.”

But young children and teens can and do have mood disorders – and they are crippling in a few ways and can be crippling at those young ages.

Mood disorders can

  • cause a child to be ostracized from the peer group, leading to socialization issues
  • lead to problems with cognitive functioning, which can lead to problems with academics
  • lead to self-destructive behavior or destruction aimed at other people or objects
  • lead to stress and tension within the family, which impacts on everyone

What can a parent do?

Mood disorders need to be diagnosed by a professional – not by the teacher,  in-law or neighbor –  [although sometimes these persons may be the first to notice that “something is not right.”

I’ve never been one to think of medication as a first response but sometimes medication may be necessary.

Parents and teachers need to understand that this is an illness and not “bad behavior” that requires punishment.  We don’t punish kids who get the flu so we should not punish a child with a mental illness. 

Sadly – in my professional life I have heard of and seen punishing used as a “cure" for many issues and my take is that physical punishment always does more harm than good – but that's for another post!

 Comments?  Always appreciated.

About the author 

Lynn Dorman, Ph.D.

  • This is such a great post! I think there are some really key points.. first being that teachers can not diagnose a mood disorder… this probably happens way too often.. especially when misbehavior is diagnosed as a problem the child has… rather than a classroom managment issue. Another point I think is key as well… is that mood disorders should not be punished!! Thanks for addressing these!

    • Thank you for the comment. I have heard so many sad tales of what schools and other professional say to parents about how to “deal with” what are mental health issues – this needed to be said. I’m glad to hear agreement – it encourages me to write more.

      Again – thank you for your words.


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