Treating Depression and Mood Disorders in Children & Teens
Everyone experiences periods in which they feel more down and unmotivated than usual. These situations typically occur because of stress or disappointment about life circumstances. For those struggling with depression and mood disorders, the experience of feeling “down” is quite different. They often describe an inability to manage life and responsibilities due to significant physical and emotional symptoms. Depression can be experienced at any stage of life, including childhood and adolescence.
Children and adolescents may experience and exhibit depression and mood disorders differently than adults. Although depression and mood disorders generally involve a depressed mood, some children and adolescents may not be able to verbalize their experiences of sadness or hopelessness. They may instead appear irritable and unmotivated. You may notice the following in a child struggling with depression and mood disorders.
- Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, complaints of feeling tired, or changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite or eating
- Irritability, tantrums, or mood swings
- Isolation and unwillingness to participate in family activities
- Failing to complete homework assignments or changes in school performance
- Difficulties in friendships and being quiet in social situations
- They appear down and cry more than usual
- Self-harm or suicidal statements
If your child is experiencing depression or a mood disorder, they may appear sullen, detached, angry, or resentful. Depression often makes people feel fatigued and unmotivated, which results in difficulty keeping up with chores and academic expectations. They may express that they are “bored” or “don’t care”, and may withdraw from previously enjoyed interests, such as hobbies or extracurricular activities.
In Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), your child will learn new ways to cope with their depression and mood swings. Your child will learn how to identify and track changes in mood, which will help them learn what makes them feel better and how to cope when feeling depressed or emotionally vulnerable. Treatment interventions may include sleep hygiene, positive activity scheduling, and exercise. Another major component in cognitive behavior therapy for treating depression and mood disorders involves cognitive (thought) strategies. Your child will learn how their thinking patterns contribute to their depressed mood and will learn how to think in more helpful and adaptive ways.
Parental involvement in treatment for depression and mood disorders in children is essential. Depending on the age of your child, the therapist may involve you in supporting the treatment interventions for your child outside of therapy. You will also learn how to communicate more effectively with your child and will gain insight into the factors contributing to your child’s symptoms.