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Does Your Daughter Have a Mood Disorder? What Depression and Similar Mood Disorders Look Like

August 25, 2020

Mood disorders are any disorders that are characterized by a marked change in mood, either up or down that interferes with day-to-day functioning. The different types of depression fall under the mood disorder category, and so does bipolar mood disorder, disruptive mood disorder, and disorders that look similar to any of these, but are connected either to substance use or health conditions. 

What Do Mood Disorders look Like? 

“Depression in teens often manifests itself in agitation and irritability, which parents are not always aware of. A combination of cognitive therapy and medication (if needed) gives teens the skills to more effectively manage their feelings and be open to support from parents,” says Brent Esplin, the executive director at Potomac at Hobble Creek.  

Mood disorders can look very different depending on the teen—your daughter’s individual personality and the type of mood disorder play a role in how the symptoms show themselves.  

Below are several of the main mood disorders that teens struggle with. If you have questions, feel free to give us a call or consult a local mental health professional. 

Persistent Depressive Mood Disorder (Dysthymia) 

Persistent depressive disorder symptoms aren’t as severe as major depressive disorder, but it’s still serious. A teen with PDD or dysthymia will have issues with: 

  • Irritability (irritability is a more reliable symptom than sadness in teens) 
  • Fatigue or low energy 
  • Concentration 
  • Decision-making 
  • Eating (either too much or too little) 
  • Sleeping (either too much or too little) 
  • Feelings of hopelessness 
  • Low self-esteem 

PDD is long-lasting. It’s a low-grade depression that lasts over a year. If it seems like your daughter has been sullen, fatigued, and irritable for a long time, PDD could be a possibility. Some teens describe it as trying to slog through mud all the time. Everything seems like work — even thinking and feeling. 

While it’s not as likely to carry the risk of suicide, Persistent Depressive Disorder is still serious and it can’t be distinguished from major depression without a professional diagnosis. This long-term depression interferes with learning, socialization, and overall functioning. It’s easy for a teen dealing with PDD to fall behind in school and to become isolated, leaving her more at risk for a decline into major depressive disorder or other mood disorders.  

Disruptive Mood Disorder 

Disruptive Mood Disorder is a new diagnosis in the DSM-5 — the manual that mental health professionals use to make diagnoses and decide what approach to take in treatment.  

What sets Disruptive Mood Disorder apart from most other mood disorders is that the teen is persistently irritable and angry. Even without significantly provoking her, your teen has extreme temper outbursts — maybe even gets aggressive and violent. That puts you in a very difficult place. 

Adjustment Mood Disorder 

Adjustment disorder is a response to a life event. Was there a major event in your daughter’s  life recently? Perhaps a divorce, a move, a death — or something else that’s notable? 

Because people show their grief in different ways, adjustment disorder has several types:  

  • Adjustment disorder with depressed mood 
  • Adjustment disorder with anxiety 
  • Adjustment disorder with depressed mood and anxiety 
  • Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct 
  • Adjustment disorder with disturbance of emotion and conduct 
  • Adjustment disorder unspecified 

Adjustment disorder doesn’t last for more than six months. Your teen is in the grieving process for whatever change or loss she’s experienced, but she’s gotten stuck and needs help and she’s  showing it through mood and behavior troubles. During this time, adjustment disorder can interfere with sleep, social interaction (which can be a big deal if it accompanies a move), and school work — setting your daughter back.  

If your daughter is struggling through a major change, it’s better to get help than to wait for it to just go away.  

Bipolar Mood Disorder 

Bipolar used to be called “manic depression.” A teen with bipolar has periods of depression followed by episodes of elevated mood, referred to as “mania.” Your daughter could have periods of extreme activity or behaviors where she: 

  • Has difficulty sleeping, and she may not even sleep for days. 
  • Has problems focusing her attention. 
  • Has a short temper or extreme irritability. 
  • Engages in risky behavior including high-risk sexual behavior. 
  • Is happy or excessively silly. 

If your daughter’s upward swing doesn’t look quite this dramatic, she could have bipolar disorder  — Type 2. The active stage is not as extreme and is called “hypomania” (hypo means low).  The “up mood” is more extreme than her normal activity, but not quite manic. 

Bipolar cycles through these stages anywhere from every couple of weeks to several months. It is treatable, but bipolar disorder isn’t curable. It’s something she’ll live with the rest of her life, though a combination of medication and therapy will help her learn to identify, process, and work with her symptoms. 

Premenstrual Dysphoric Mood Disorder 

Many teen girls get moody or agitated in the week or so before their period starts, but PMDD is more severe than PMS. PMDD hits 1-2 weeks before your daughter’s period starts and is gone within a few days of starting her cycle. The symptoms are severe enough to keep your daughter from functioning normally. Some of the symptoms include: 

  • Mood changes including irritability, nervousness, anxiety, and depression 
  • Crying and heightened emotions 
  • Paranoia and increased sensitivity 
  • Coordination issues 
  • Sleep issues 
  • Other symptoms common to forms of depression 
  • Pain, headaches, bloating, and other symptoms common to PMS, but often more severe. 

If you’re noticing she’s more depressed, agitated, or irritable –to the point that it’s interfering with her relationships or her functioning — but it happens at a regular time each month, talk to her doctor. There are several options for treating PMDD, including medication and cognitive behavioral therapy to help her identify her emotions and strategize ways to deal with her symptoms.  

Major Depressive Mood Disorder 

13% of teens have at least one episode of Major Depressive Disorder. It is treatable through therapy and possibly the addition of medications.  

A major depressive episode is identified as a depressed mood and lack of interest in things that usually bring pleasure (anhedonia) that lasts at least two weeks, though it can last a lot longer than that. In teens, it can show itself as chronic irritability more than sadness, though either are a possibility. It’s often accompanied by aches and pains that don’t have an obvious source.  

Major Depression can also have dominant types:  

Melancholic features – dominated by sadness, worsened moods in the morning, early wakening, agitation, sluggishness, and guilt. 

Anxious distress — she’s worried about loss of control over situations or events, more agitated and restless. 

Atypical depression — A person with atypical major depression is able to be cheered up by individual situations but returns back to the depressed state shortly afterwards, has an increased appetite, sleeps more, and feels lethargic or heavy. 

If Your Daughter is Depressed, Don’t Hesitate to Get Help 

If your daughter is at risk of harming herself or taking her life, call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to their website. If the risk is immediate, call 911.  

At Potomac Programs at Hobble Creek, our short-term residential program for girls aged 12-17 can help them work through their depression and find their way through to the other side through various types of therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and various experiential therapies that help them process what they’re going through.  

If you think your daughter is struggling with any of the above mood disorders or anxiety, self-harm, substance use, conduct issues, family conflict, or other issues that are impairing her ability to function, click the Get Started button at the top right of the page. We’ll help you get help for your daughter.  


7 Common Types of Depression 

Types of Depression Commonly Found in Teens 

Mayo Clinic: Teen Depression 

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