Why Mood Disorders Are Crippling at a Young Age

First a disclaimer: although I have a Ph.D. in psychology, none of what I write here is meant to diagnose, evaluate or be read as other than personal informational thoughts.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.There are many types of mood disorders and a person needs to be diagnosed by a professional who uses the DSM-IV as the guide to see 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.Mood disorders include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.When do they start?This is the hard part, as 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 total criteria for the disorder.And part of the problem is our cultural reluctance to see young children as depressed or suicidal. And added to this is that teenagers often go through what I call a “normal period of craziness.”Yet children and teens can have mood disorders of some level and they are crippling in a few ways.Why are they crippling at young ages?Mood disorders can be crippling at any age but with children and teens they often result in the following….
They cause a child to be ostracized from the peer group, leading to socialization issues.
They can lead to problems with cognitive functioning, which can lead to problems with academics.
They can lead to self-destructive behavior or destruction aimed at other people or objects.
They can lead to stress and tension within the family, which impacts on everyone.
What can one do?Mood disorders need to be diagnosed by a professional not by the teacher or the parent [although 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 medication may be necessary. Medication and therapy may be the best combination to help a child or teen to lead a nromal life. And it is possible that age and ongoing development may lessen the need for one or both of these intervientions.There is so much we are constantly learning about the brain, that the earlier the diagnosis the better is the chance for a normal life.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 offer punishment for a child with a mental illness. [Yes in my professional life I have heard just this as a “cure.”]