Mood Disorders: Looking at Teen Depression and Bipolar Disorders

Mood Disorders: Looking at Teen Depression and Bipolar Disorders

As you can already imagine, the teenager is at a unique crossroads. They stand at the uncomfortable intersection between being a child, under the influence of parents and teachers, and being an adult, attempting to find a sense of autonomy.
You can imagine the sense of insecurity they might feel, the pressure to fit into society, the need for acceptance, and the experimentation they might need to do. Teenagers will experiment with role playing, exploring various social groups, and attempting to discover where they fit in. This is an essential stage of developing a strong identity and finding their direction in life.
So, it’s not uncommon for them to experience emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, elation, and anger. In fact, the grey matter of the brain, which contains most of the brain’s neurons and is known as the part of the brain that thinks, is still growing in teens. Alongside this is the still developing frontal cortex, which completes its growth during ages 23-26. The frontal cortex performs reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control, necessities for being an adult. This might explain a teen’s tendency to make poor decisions and an inability to discern whether a situation is safe. Teens tend to rely more on their amygdala, the part of the brain dealing with emotions, whereas adults rely more on their frontal cortex, leading to balanced thinking and behavior.
Up until recently, certain mental illnesses that had to do with emotions were categorized under mood disorders, also known as affective disorders. The word affect is a clinical term for emotion or feeling. In the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, however, they are now categorized differently. The categories for mental illnesses are Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorders, Dissociative Disorders, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders, Substance-Related Disorders, and more.

Of the mood disorders, the following are the most common for both teens and adults alike. However, for teens, experiencing the symptoms of the following disorders can lead to a significant impairment in functioning at home, school, and work.

Major Depressive Disorder – This disorder is considered to be a medical illness that includes symptoms of persistent sadness, loss of interest in daily activities, occupational and educational impairment, along with eventual emotional and physical problems. Major Depressive Disorder usually requires long-term treatment, including psychotherapy and medication. Lear more about teen depression treatment here.
Bipolar Disorder – This disorder is classified in two ways. An adolescent with Bipolar Disorder will be diagnosed as having either Type 1 or Type 2. This first type of Bipolar, also known as Bipolar I, includes one or more distinct periods of mania, and could also include a mixed period. For instance, if there is a period of mania, there might also be features of depression and if there is a period of depression, there might also be features of mania. Bipolar II is characterized by at least one episode of hypomania and at least one episode of depression. This diagnosis can be made only if the individual has not ever experienced a period of mania. Hypomania is an episode of that is less severe than a full episode of mania. Treatment for Bipolar Disorder might include medication and psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, life skills training, psycho-education, and hospitalization, if necessary.
The above disorders are those related to mood disturbance. Of course, variations in mood are common in adolescence. For this reason, it’s important to have a teen clinically assessesed if he or she is exhibiting symptoms of a mental illness.

– By Robert Hunt

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