Kids and Mood Disorders
Is it More than a Bad Mood?
February, 2007 - Issue #28
We've all experienced a bad mood. Everyone understands that occasionally they're going to have a bad day. As parents we become all too familiar with the symptoms signaling when a family member is about to have one. But what happens when a child has a bad day and keeps having them consistently? Depending on a child's age and developmental stage, they may not recognize their own symptoms or understand why they feel and act the way they do. They often can't talk about it or feel embarrassed and scared because they're different than the other kids.

When do you decide that this is not just a bad day and something's wrong? When do you ask yourself if your child has a mood disorder? A mood disorder is classified as an illness in the brain. A good way to think about mood disorders is to realize that all kids are sad, happy or mad and express these feelings with behaviors that reflect their personality styles. However, mood disorder emotions create behaviors that are over the top. Too happy. Too excited. Too mad. Too sad. The intensity of these feelings may inhibit a child from functioning appropriately at school, at play and at home.

"Mood disorder emotions create behaviors that are over the top. The intensity of these feelings may INHIBIT A CHILD FROM FUNCTIONING APPROPRIATELY at school, at play and at home."
Two sides of the mood disorder coin are mania and depression. Mania is the too up, too happy, too excited, too much energy part of the mood disorder known as bipolar disorder. The other side of bipolar disorder is depression: too sad, too tired, too mad, too withdrawn. Children with bipolar disorder change between mania and depression, sometimes very quickly, sometimes very slowly or sometimes appear to have mania and depression almost at the same time.

When they experience mania they may feel extremely emotional about things that wouldn't bother most people. They can believe they have super powers that others don't. This belief may cause them to do things that are dangerous. In a state of mania a child may be unable to keep still, may have difficulty sleeping or may stay up all night and not sleep at all. They may talk too loud or too fast, feel like the thoughts in their head are bouncing around, hear voices telling them to do specific things or they may say they see people or things that aren't actually present. When they feel depressed they may feel sad or cry a lot, get upset easily, act out irrationally, tantrum frequently, and express no interest in doing anything they usually consider enjoyable. They may talk about or draw pictures of death or dying, say they are lonely or believe no one likes them, loves them, or cares about them. Sometimes children who are depressed may want to sleep too much, not want food, or want to eat all the time, may have
frequent headaches, stomachaches or other body aches they can't explain, and don't want to play with or talk to their friends or siblings or parents. Kids with mood disorders have shared that they feel overpowered by their emotions and are unable to control themselves. Their emotions and behaviors could appear conflicting or confusing. They may jump from one emotion to another quickly, or be unexplainably stuck in the same mood for weeks, even months.

Parents who are concerned their child may have a mood disorder need to become an emotion detective. Bipolar disorder is real. Pay attention to moods, mood swings, and intensity of the moods. Is there a pattern? Does anything seem to trigger the changes? Talk to teachers, parents of friends, coaches, siblings and friends, anyone who spends enough time with your child to become familiar with their moods. Get educated. Talk with your doctor or specialists recommended by your doctor in order to provide the most support for your child and you. Help your child to share his/her fears about feelings and behaviors. It's so important that they feel safe to talk about what they're going through, especially when they feel depressed. When it's difficult for them to talk, encourage them to draw pictures or, depending on their age, write their feelings in a journal. They need to know they aren't alone and that you take them seriously.

Two organizations that specialize in providing information about bipolar disorder are Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation ( and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance ( You may find these resources invaluable.


If you're concerned your child may be living with a mood disorder, please e-mail Kim at She is happy to provide you with more information or a referral to a specialist.
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