Mood Disorders in Teenagers and How to Cope With It

Navigating adolescence is fraught with unique challenges, making it crucial to understand and support teenage mental health.

Teenager experiencing mood disorder
Photo by Polina Zimmerman

Being a teenager is more challenging than we often realize. Puberty, peer pressure, and school, to name a few factors, place teenagers in a stage where they are highly susceptible to various experiences and stimuli, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

Given this, why do we consider teenagers’ mental health to be so fragile? Are they really that vulnerable? While it is normal for adolescents to feel sad or angry, these emotions are sometimes dismissed as typical teen angst. However, teens with mood disorders often experience these feelings to an extreme, with highs and lows that go beyond classic “teenage emotions.”

What are Teens’ Mood Disorders?

Mood disorders are more common than you might think and are often overlooked because they are dismissed as “just a phase” or “bad behavior.” In truth, mood disorders can range from depression to mania, and recognizing the symptoms is crucial.

It’s normal for teens to go through highs and lows, but teens with mood disorders experience more extreme shifts in mood than the typical roller coaster of adolescent emotions. These extreme shifts are more than simple mood swings and cannot be easily overcome by just thinking positively.

Types of Mood Disorders

Although depression is the most commonly referenced mood disorder in mental health awareness campaigns and the media, various mood disorders can disrupt emotional stability. Some include:

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

MDD, also known as clinical depression, is the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder. It’s characterized by persistent feelings of low mood or negative thoughts. Identifying MDD in teenagers is complicated as depression may be a sign of other disorders as well.

Bipolar Disorder

Previously known as manic depression, it is marked by extreme highs and lows. Periods of depression can last for months. Teens with mania can be extra impulsive and develop unhealthy patterns such as drug use, unprotected sex, and binge drinking.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Also known as seasonal depression, SAD is characterized by persistent low mood during the fall or winter months. It’s believed that shorter days with less sunlight cause changes in brain chemicals, leading to symptoms of depression.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Persistent Depressive Disorder has similar symptoms to MDD, but they are more chronic and longer-lasting. Symptoms must be present on most days, for at least two years.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

This severe form of premenstrual syndrome causes symptoms the week before menstruation and can affect teenage girls after they start their period.

Disruptive Mood Disorder Regulation (DMDD)

This disorder can make it difficult to regulate emotions, leading to periods of sadness, or frequent and angry outbursts.

Each of these mood disorders presents their own timeline and intensity of symptoms. However they all affect the ability to maintain a stable mood.

Mood Disorders in Children and Adolescents

When we look at mood disorders in children and teenagers, they are often labeled as overly dramatic or attention-seeking. This labeling prevents teens and children from being open with parents and others about their mental health.

Teens may have difficulty communicating their feelings, so parents should be mindful of behaviors that could indicate a mood disorder.

Signs Your Teen Suffers from A Mood Disorder

Mood disorders in teenagers can be debilitating. They may underperform in school, have strained relationships at home, complain about physical pain, and even start using drugs. Some common signs include:

  • Ongoing sad or depressed mood
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt with no rational reason
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Strained relationships
  • Sensitivity to failure or rejection
  • Lack of self-care (not showering, brushing teeth, etc)
  • Physical health problems with no apparent reason (stomachaches, headaches, joint pain)
  • Self-harm
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts


Healthcare providers such as clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, or pediatricians will conduct a detailed assessment of your teen’s health history and a psychiatric evaluation to rule out other possible mental health conditions. The assessment process may include interviews with the teen, parents, or teachers to gain a better understanding of their behavior.

Related » Helping Your Anxious Teen: A Guide for Parents

Available Treatment for Teens

Supporting your teenager with a mood disorder can be tough without treatment. Sometimes adults think teens have nothing to worry or be depressed about. But this imbalance of chemicals in the brain is not something that can be controlled.

Seeking professional help for mood disorders is recommended. Specialists can help identify negative thought patterns, engage in mood-boosting activities, or prescribe medication to manage symptoms. Common treatments include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Helps identify negative thought patterns and build healthy coping strategies.
  • Medication: Antidepressants or mood stabilizers can treat chemical imbalances in the brain and manage symptoms.
  • Group Therapy: Connecting with other teens who are struggling with similar problems can decrease feelings of loneliness or isolation.
  • Self-Management Tools: Techniques taught in therapy, such as journaling, meditation, movement, art, or spending time outdoors, can help manage symptoms.

The Takeaway

Finding the right solution is key to helping teenagers suffering from mood disorders. Understanding them and creating a safe space for them is the best support for their mental health.


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