Depressive Disorders (Children and Adolescents)

Depressive disorders, which include major depressive disorder (unipolar depression), dysthymic disorder (chronic, mild depression), and bipolar disorder (manic-depression), can have far-reaching effects on the functioning and adjustment of young people.

Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms (see symptom list) that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime, but more often, it recurs throughout a person's life. Dysthymia involves long-term (two years or longer) but less severe symptoms that do not disable, but keep one from functioning well or from feeling good. Many people with dysthymia also experience major depressive episodes at some time in their lives. Bipolar disorder is not nearly as prevalent as other forms of depressive disorders and is characterized by mood changes: severe highs (mania) and lows (depression). Sometimes the mood switches are dramatic and rapid, but most often they are gradual. When in the depressed cycle, an individual can have any or all of the symptoms of a depressive disorder. When in the manic cycle, the individual may be overactive, overly talkative, and have a great deal of energy. Mania often affects thinking, judgment, and social behavior in ways that cause serious problems and embarrassment.

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Some forms of depressive disorder exhibit slightly different characteristics than those described above, or they may develop under unique circumstances. However, not all scientists agree on how to characterize and define these forms of depression. They include: Psychotic depression, which occurs when a severe depressive illness is accompanied by some form of psychosis, such as a break with reality, hallucinations, and delusions. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by the onset of a depressive illness during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer.

Depressive Disorders (Children and Adolescents). Last reviewed 07/31/2008

Sources:

  • National Institute of Mental Health
  • Journal of Affective Disorders
  • Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Annals of Neurology
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