Mood Disorders in Children

Mood disorders in children, especially bipolar disorder and explosive mood disorders (also known as severe mood dysregulation and called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder in DSM-5), are controversial. Many children after all have temper tantrums, hyperactivity, sleep problems, etc., yet do not need a diagnosis. I found a list of fifteen symptoms of childhood bipolar disorder, of which I easily met the required four as a child. However, I never had the classic symptoms of bipolar disorder and do not have bipolar disorder now that I’m an adult. I did have mood disturbances as a child, but these could also be due to my autism and emotion regulation disorder.

Dsiruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) has much stricter criteria than those proposed in the above article for childhood bipolar disorder. In order to be diagnosed with DMDD, a child needs to meet many criteria, including temper outbursts on average at least three times a week over a twelve-month period, persistent irritability most of the day, nearly every day, symptoms occurring in at least two contexts and being severe in at least one (home, school, or with peers), etc. The diagnosis cannot be made in a child under six and should not be made for the first time in adulthood.

The diagnosis of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder cannot co-occur with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), intermittent explosive disorder or bipolar disorder. If a child meets both criteria for DMDD and ODD, only the mood disorder needs to be diagnosed. If a child has ever had a manic or hypomanic episode, only the diagnosis of bipolar disorder must be made. For childhood bipolar disorder, the same criteria for a manic or hypomanic episode apply as for adults, except that the duration may be shorter. According to the accompanying text in DSM-5, rates of conversioon from DMDD to adult bipolar disorder are low. Adults with a history of DMDD are more likley to suffer frm depression or anxiety.

Mood disorders, including DMDD, can however co-occur with other disorders, such as ADHD or autism. ADHD and autism can also mimic a mood disorder. For example, if a child with autism or ADHD won’t stop talking, this shouldn’t be confused with the talkativeness seen in a (hypo)manic episode. However, mood symptoms can also be missed if a child has ADHD or autism, because irritability, temper outbursts, etc. are seen as a normal part of the ADHD or autism.

If a child’s mood disturbances are interfering with their daily functioning, take them to their doctor or psychologist for assessment. It isn’t always necessary to give them additional labels or prescribe them medication. Sometimes, just a change in handling strategy may help. You could’ve noticed this already, but, with a problem child, it’s often helpful to have a professional be your second pair of eyes.

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