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Depression and Mood Disorders in Children and Adolescents

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Depression & Mood Disorders occur in Childhood and Adolescence: there is a growing body of evidence that children and adolescents are at risk for both depression (Major Depressive Disorder and Dysthymia) and bipolar disorder.

Children and Adolescents with Depression/Bipolar Disorder are at risk: there is research that suggests that children and adolescents who are diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder are at risk for a recurrence of these disorders throughout their lives.

Depression and Mood Disorders increase Suicide Risk: there is evidence that children, and particularly adolescents, who are depressed or have a bipolar disorder, have an increased risk of suicide.

Diagnosis is complicated: diagnosing depression, and particularly bipolar disorder, in children and adolescents is challenging. The criteria for diagnosing depressive disorders in childhood and adolescence (particularly for bipolar disorder), is less well defined. Children and teens may experience symptoms differently than adults and may have difficulty describing and explaining their symptoms.

Treatment helps with Childhood and Adolescent Depression: there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that therapy helps depressed children and adolescents. As with adults, the combination of therapy and medication is considered most effective.

Treatment of Bipolar Disorder in Children and Adolescents: there is less research on treatment of children and adolescents with bipolar disorder. However, the consensus among experts is that medication treatment, in conjunction with psychotherapy, is the best approach.

Treatment issues with Children and Adolescents: treating children and adolescents is often more complicated and is definitely different than treating adults.

  • Children (and teens) are not miniature adults. Children and adolescents are not as adept in talking about their feelings; they are less disciplined and thus less able to follow through on making changes in their lives.
  • Family support is critical. Parents need to be involved in their child’s, and even their teen’s, treatment. Children and adolescents need the support and structure that parents provide to help them overcome depression and manage the symptoms of a mood disorder.
  • A Comprehensive approach to treatment is need. Therapists must be aware of the child’s issues, their family environment, and the impact of school and broader social environment. Moreover, therapists need to coordinate care with other professionals, including physicians, to maximize treatment effectiveness.

In our handout: Understanding and Treating Depression and Mood Disorders in Children and Adolescents we discuss the issues noted above in more detail and offer specific resources for parents.


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