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It’s not unusual for a teen to be laughing one minute and rolling her eyes the next. Most of the time, those rapid and intense mood shifts are a normal part of adolescence. But sometimes, mood swings can signal a more serious problem.Why Teens Experience Mood Swings
Mood swings during adolescence are partially due to biology. Hormonal shifts that occur during puberty play a major role in the way teens think and feel. As teens mature, they commonly experience increased irritability, intense sadness, and frequent frustration due to the chemical changes occurring inside their brains.
Teens' quests to establish their own identities also plays a role in their moods. It’s healthy for teens to gain independence and to establish their own beliefs, goals, and guidelines, which are separate from their parents. As they establish that independence, they’re likely to experience some inner turmoil that manifests as dramatic behavior.
Healthy adolescent development leads teens to ask themselves, “Who am I?” This is why teens sometimes go through a variety of interesting phases during adolescence. A teen may dress in black clothing for six months only to then seek out the brightest most mismatched outfits she can find.
Establishing independence causes teens to experience a variety of emotions. They may feel sad, scared, and lonely about the futures while simultaneously feeling excited about their budding freedom. These intense emotions can lead to a variety of mood swings.Symptoms of depression in Teenages
In adolescent depression, the thing people tend to notice first is withdrawal, or when the Teenage stops doing things she usually likes to do. There might be other changes in her mood, including sadness or irritability. Or in her behavior, including, appetite, energy level, sleep patterns and academic performance. If several of these symptoms are present, be vigilant about the possibility of depression.
This is especially important because by the time family members and other people around a Teenage note her lack of interest in most things, or what we call anhedonia, she’s usually been depressed for some time. Depression is an internalizing disorder, i.e. one that disturbs a patient’s emotional life, rather than an externalizing one, which manifests in the form of disruptive or problematic behavior. As such, it takes a while not only for others to recognize it, but often for the patient herself to realize that her thinking, and emotional responses, are disturbed.
Note that there are actually two kinds of depression. In major depressive disorder—the most familiar form of depression—the cluster of symptoms that define depression occur in what may be severe episodes that tend to last from seven to nine months. But there is also another form of depression called dysthymic disorder, in which the symptoms are milder, but they last longer, measured in years. So while the experience of dysthymia may be less debilitating for the child at any given moment, the risk is that there is more accrued damage, more time in which the child is kept out of the healthy development process.Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety is a normal adaptive system that lets the body know when it’s in danger. But anxiety becomes a problem when it’s out of proportion to the situation, and interferes with a person’s ability to function. An overly anxious teen might withdraw from activities because she’s too scared or anxious, and her anxiety doesn’t go away with reassurance.
A Teenage who has been anxious since childhood may have a lifestyle built around her anxieties: the activities and environments she chooses and those she rules out, the friends she is comfortable with, the expectations and limitations she has trained her family, friends, and teachers to accept. That’s why it’s more challenging to treat anxiety the longer a child has lived with it, and developed unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage it.Why early intervention is critical
When a child is depressed or anxious, her suffering isn’t the only reason it’s important to get help.
In addition to the disorders themselves, there are add-on effects that may cause lifelong issues. With depression comes low energy and poor concentration, two factors that are likely to have a significant impact on social and academic functioning. Anxiety, and the withdrawal that may accompany it, is likewise a detriment to social and academic progress.
It’s easy to see the effects of poor academic functioning: falling behind in school undermines a child’s confidence and self-image, and can impact her future if it’s prolonged. But social learning is just as critical as academic learning in childhood and adolescence. This is a time when a girl would normally be learning such things as how to be a daughter, a sister, a friend; with either depression or anxiety, she may miss or fall behind on these critical kinds of learning. These deficits not only put her behind her peers, but in themselves they can compound her depression or anxiety.Other disorders
It’s important to understand that anxiety and depression often occur in the same Teenage, and may need to be treated as two separate disorders. Anxiety is more likely to occur without depression than depression without anxiety. It may be that depression leads to anxiety—the negative state of mind of a depressed Teenage lends itself to uncertainty. If you’re not feeling good about yourself, or confident, or secure, or safe, anxiety may find fertile ground. It may also be because the regions of the brain affected by anxiety and depression are close together, and mutually affected.
Two serious problems that are directly associated with teenage depression and anxiety are suicidal thinking (or behavior), and substance abuse. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24, and we know that most kids who commit suicide have been suffering from a psychiatric illness. Especially at risk are Teenages who hide their depression and anxiety from parents and friends. That’s why it’s important to be alert to signs of these disorders—withdrawal, changes in school performance, eating habits, sleeping patterns, things she enjoys doing—even when Teenages aren’t forthcoming about how they feel. Similarly, the majority of Teenages who develop substance abuse problems also have a psychiatric disorder, including, most commonly, anxiety or depression, which is another important reason to get treatment in a timely way.
Two other problems associated with teenage girls—that is, occurring with greater frequency in girls than boys—are eating disorders and self injury, or cutting. While both of these can overlap with depression, the common assumption that they’re caused by depression is not borne out by research. Girls who have eating disorders often show no signs of depression; indeed, they are often very high-functioning, competitive girls who have a distorted body image, but not the symptoms of depression. Similarly, self-injurious behavior is a kind of dysfunctional coping mechanism kids get into to alleviate emotional pain, or numbness they’ve developed as a result of that pain. It can occur with, and be complicated by, a mood disorder, but isn’t thought to be a result of the latter. Antidepressants, the medication of choice for mood disorders, don’t usually alleviate eating disorders or cutting, which receive different kinds of treatment.How Parents Can Help
It’s important to keep your cool when you’re dealing with a cranky or moody teen. Raising your voice or using sarcasm will only make the situation worse. Reply in a calm, but firm manner and hold your teen accountable for disrespectful behavior.
Encouraging healthy sleep habits is one of the best ways to address a teen's mood. An overtired or sleep-deprived teen is likely to experience increased difficulty regulating emotions.
One of the biggest reasons teens have trouble sleeping is because they’re using electronic devices near bedtime. Establish a rule that says no electronics within an hour of bedtime and don’t allow your teen to sleep with a smartphone in the room.
Exercise is a natural mood booster and it can go a long way to easing mood swings. Encourage your teen to get at least 20 minutes of exercise each day. Not only will exercise reduce stress, but it will also release endorphins, which are chemicals known to help improve mood.
A healthy diet is another way teens can naturally combat mood swings. Eating breakfast, reducing caffeine, and decreasing sugar are just a few of the things that can help teens feel at their best. Talk to your teen about the importance of a balanced diet and provide healthy snacks and meals.When to Seek Professional Help
Mood swings can be a sign of a bigger problem for teens at times. If your teen can’t keep friends because her mood swings are so severe, or she can’t get through the school day without yelling at people, she may have underlying mental health issues.
Fortunately, early involvement of health care professionals can shorten the period of illness and increase the likelihood of her not missing important life lessons.
The most common treatment a mental health professional is apt to use is some form of cognitive behavioral therapy, and depending on how young the child is, it may involve teaching the parents as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that a person suffering from a mood disorder is trapped in a negative pattern of thought. Depressed kids tend to evaluate themselves negatively, interpret the actions of others in a negative way, and assume the darkest possible outcome of events. Similarly, a child suffering from anxiety is overwhelmed by fears of negative outcomes long before events occur. In CBT, we teach sufferers to challenge those negative thoughts, to recognize the pattern and train themselves to think outside it. And in many cases we see real improvement in Teenages with depression and anxiety.
If the anxiety or depression is moderate to severe, treatment may involve medications such as antidepressants. For both anxiety and depression, a combination of psychotherapy and medication usually works better than either alone.