Is her moodiness something to worry about?

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Jenny is a typical seventh grade student worried about her grades, trying out for the school play, whether she should get contacts instead of wearing glasses, her parent's recent divorce, and the crush she has on the boy she met at soccer camp six months ago.

Her mom is concerned because Jenny will appear sad one minute, and when asked what is wrong, she will snap "Nothing!" or "Leave me alone!" Later, though, she will offer to help her mom with dinner, and act as if the prior exchange never happened, laughing and giggling. Her dad also is concerned because he has noticed that if she doesn't get her way in certain situations, she will pout, cry or run to her room and slam the door. They both feel she worries about everything, whether it is in her control or not.

Jenny's parents know that anyone can feel sad or depressed at times. Mood swings, rapidly changing emotional states that seem to occur for no apparent reason, are considered a normal part of adolescence. For the most part, mood swings are a part of daily life, although they can be a sign of more severe problems such as depression or anxiety disorders. Generally speaking, they are nothing more than the symptoms of a teenager dealing with growing up in an ever changing world around them.

Mood disorders are more intense and difficult to manage than normal feelings of sadness or rejection. When parents get divorced, grades are not what an adolescent wants them to be, or she is rejected by the boy she has a crush on, coping with the pressure may be difficult. These life events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness or depression, and mood disorders make them harder to manage.

If these feelings continue over a period of time, or interfere with an adolescent's interest in being with friends or taking part in normal daily activities at home or school, than she may be experiencing a mood disorder.

Signs of mood disorders include:

• loss of interest in usual activities

• sleep disturbances

• changes in appetite or weight

• decreased energy

• feeling sad, hopeless or helpless

• having low self-esteem

• feeling inadequate or worthless

• difficulty concentrating

• a decrease in the ability to make decisions

• suicidal thoughts or attempts

Mood disorders are not the only disorders with these symptoms, though. Anxiety disorders have many of the same symptoms, but are usually noticeable over a longer period of time at least six months. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health conditions in adolescents, and may result in significant distress in a numbers of settings, or may dramatically affect her life by limiting her ability to engage in a variety of activities.

Adolescents with generalized anxiety disorders are often preoccupied with worries about their success in activities and their ability to obtain the approval of others. She may have persistent thoughts of self-doubt which she cannot control, and may criticize herself for not making the lead in the play. These feelings can affect her throughout the day at home, at school and with friends.

Because Jenny's parents are not sure if her actions are normal mood swings, or a sign of something more serious, they are going to talk to her physician. Early detection and intervention can reduce the severity of symptoms, as well as enhance her normal growth and development.

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