Mood Disorders in Children

Children may demonstrate symptoms of several mood disorders. These could include dysthymia, major depressive disorder, bipolar, or mood disorders not otherwise specified (NOS). Bipolar has only recently begun to be diagnosed in children and often a child may be given the diagnosis of mood disorder, NOS prior to bipolar to allow for more time for evaluation.


Many children can seem sad, irritable or emotional at times, but to meet criteria for a mood disorder they need to demonstrate these symptoms for the majority of the day or the change in mood needs to be extreme with no known cause or trigger. Often inability to sleep or oversleep, poor appetite or overeating, lack of concentration and low self-esteem accompany the marked mood symptoms.

In extreme cases, children can lose interest in all activities, become aggressive or have extreme behavioral issues, and exhibit suicidal ideation.

To meet diagnostic criteria, symptoms need to be present for lengths of time. Some of the disorders require a year or longer of symptoms prior to diagnosis.


Typical treatment can involve various therapies and medication. Often full psychological evaluations may be recommended to ensure the child is receiving an accurate diagnosis. The medications are given to stabilize the child’s mood and reduce symptoms. Some of the medications may worsen symptoms if the child is bipolar, so consultation with health professionals is essential.

As stated above, because most children can demonstrate or struggle with mood issues during the normal developmental cycles, it is important to connect with health providers if a caregiver has concerns to ensure the child and family receive appropriate treatment if needed.

This information was gathered from MayoClinic.org.