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Home|Mental Health|Severe Mood Swings and Mood Disorders in Teenagers (Girls and Boys)

Parents can be flabbergasted when their once happy-go-lucky child morphs into a teenager who is suddenly riddled with extreme moodiness. The mood swings seem to appear out of nowhere, leaving parents at a loss as to how to manage this new version of their child. Loud, angry outbursts may give way to mania in an instant, and bouts of dark depression can abruptly shift to exuberance.

With no rhyme or reason to the mood swings, parents grapple with confused feelings, kept off balance by their teen’s shifting emotional landscape. This can result in a lot of turmoil at home, as family members attempt to adjust to the teen’s evolving moods while walking on eggshells.

While true that adolescence is commonly characterized by tumultuous emotions, usually driven by hormonal fluctuations, the fact is that mood disorders in teens are a possible explanation. Dramatic mood swings are not rare among teens, but when these begin to be frequent to the point of impairment, then symptoms should be evaluated by a mental health professional.

About Mood Swings and Disorders in Teens

A mood disorder refers to a mental health disorder that affects the individual’s persistent emotional state, or their mood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 14.3% of adolescents experience a mood disorder in a given year, with about 11% of them experiencing severe impairment. The most prevalent mood disorders among teenagers include:


Teen depression affects 20.1% of adolescents aged 12-17. When symptoms of depression do not resolve within two weeks, it is time to see a doctor for assessment. The symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or despair
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleep problems, insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Slowed movements and cognitive functioning
  • Loss of interest in the activities usually enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or shame
  • Easily upset
  • Mood swings
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Somatic symptoms, such as headaches or stomach distress
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Thoughts of death or suicide


Anxiety disorders are increasingly prevalent among teens, impacting about 32% of teens prior to age 18, especially social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Each type of anxiety will have unique features, anxiety is generally expressed by the following symptoms:

  • Excessive or irrational fear or worry
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fears being judged by others
  • Very sensitive to criticism
  • Blushes easily
  • Social withdrawal, isolating behaviors
  • Highly self-conscious, self-critical
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Difficulty with interpersonal relationships

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mood disorder that may emerge during the teen years. Bipolar disorder features extreme mood swings, alternating between manic and depressive episodes. Mania symptoms include rapid speech, energy bursts, sleeping fewer hours, eating less, irritability, euphoria, and engaging in risky behaviors. Depressive symptoms include feelings of hopelessness and persistent sadness, changes in eating and sleeping habits, low energy, lack of interest in usual activities, and obsessive thoughts about death or suicide.

There are four variations of bipolar disorder.

  • Bipolar I Disorder. Bipolar I features more severe manic episodes, or mixed episodes, where the mania and depressive emotions alternate within the episode. Manic episodes are more dominant in bipolar I.
  • Bipolar II Disorder. Bipolar II is characterized by more depressive features, with at least one episode of hypomania occurring between depressive episodes. Hypomania is a milder form of mania.
  • Cyclothymia. Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorders with multiple hypomanic episodes alternating with milder depressive episodes.
  • Not Otherwise Specified (NOS). NOS is the catchall diagnosis for extreme mood swings that do not fall into one of the above categories.

How to Determine if the Teenager is just Moody or Has a Mood Disorder

Since teens tend to be pretty moody in general, it may be difficult to determine whether your adolescent is just a typical teenager or if they might be struggling with a mood disorder. Although parents are quite familiar with the occasional outburst or slammed door, they may not understand what to look for in a mood disorder. When a teen has a mood disorder, this indicates that they are not able to regulate their emotions appropriately. Some of the signs to look for include:

  • Pay attention to the intensity of the mood, and ask yourself if it is appropriate to the trigger. In fact, there may not even be a trigger that preceded the intense mood event.
  • How long does the moodiness last? Does it resolve in an hour or does the severe mood linger for several days or weeks?
  • Is the teen acting out during the mood swings, such as engaging in reckless behavior, substance abuse, or self-harm?
  • Is the teen avoiding social contact, isolating?
  • Has the teen lost interest in the hobbies and activities they usually enjoy?

These are the signs of a teen mood disorder, and should be evaluated as early as possible.

What Causes Mood Swings in Teens?

Most mental health disorders are the result of a combination of factors. These might include:

  • Genetics. If a close family member has a mood disorder then it increases the likelihood that the teen may also develop a mood disorder
  • Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that regulate mood, so if there is an imbalance then this could be a risk factor
  • Life events. Unexpected adverse life events, such as the sudden loss of a loved one, parents divorcing, serious accident or illness, or physical or sexual assault, may contribute to a mood disorder

Substance abuse can also cause irrational mood swings in teens. While drugs or alcohol can exacerbate moodiness, it hasn’t been determined if substance abuse causes a mood disorder. Mood disorders affect a much higher percentage of females, with girls 70% more likely to struggle with a mood disorder.

Signs that Your Teenager Needs a More Intensive Level of Care

In some cases, the teen’s mental health may deteriorate regardless of outpatient interventions. When a teen becomes increasingly emotionally unstable, to the point where the symptoms are negatively impacting all areas of their lives, these are signs that the teen needs a more concentrated type of treatment. While these teens may already be under the care of a mental health professional, sometimes a more comprehensive level of care is appropriate.

Signs that a teen may benefit from a residential mental health program include:

  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Running away from home
  • Extreme sadness or despair
  • Engages in illegal activity or high-risk behaviors
  • Repeated truancy
  • Avoiding social activities
  • Sudden decline in academic performance
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Substance abuse
  • Threats of suicide

When these signs are present it is important to protect the teen’s safety. A residential mental health treatment program will provide acute stabilization and close monitoring.

About Teen Residential Mental Health Treatment

When a teen begins exhibiting serious symptoms, such as threatening suicide, acting out violently, engages in self-harming behaviors, or shows signs of a psychosis, a comprehensive residential treatment program is an appropriate level of care. Residential care is also appropriate for teens that may not be responding effectively to outpatient treatment efforts and need a more intensive program.

Teen residential mental health centers can offer the teen the respite needed to focus solely on the mood disorder that is causing them distress. Teens will reside in a comfortable setting where they have 24-hour monitoring and support, and a wide range of therapeutic activities throughout the day.

After a thorough intake process, involving interviews with the teen and the parents, as well as clinical assessments, the clinical staff will arrive at a primary diagnosis. The mental health professional will identify the special features that accompany the diagnosis, determine if there is a co-occurring substance use disorder, and conduct a review of the teen’s medical and mental health history. From this information, an individualized treatment plan will be created specifically for that teen.

Teen mental health programs are carefully designed specifically for the adolescent’s unique developmental age and characteristics. These vary from an adult program, and are based on the teen’s brain and level of maturity. The teen program often integrates experiential activities that helps keep the teen engaged in their ongoing treatment. This teen-centered programming enhances the treatment outcomes because the teen is better able to relate to the relevancy of the various activities.

Psychotherapy and medication are the foundational modes of treatment for mood disorders. Psychotherapy is provided in both individual sessions and in small group formats. Family-centered counseling is also prominantly featured in a teen residential program. Holistic activities are also integrated into the comprehensive plan, including yoga and mindfulness meditation. The residential teen mental health program adheres to the specific needs of teens while providing a well-rounded environment for personal growth and emotional healing.

Getting teens the help they need is important, as ignoring or denying their problems will only lead to mounting consequences, such as getting in trouble at school, legal problems, dropping out of school, and interpersonal struggles, and can develop into more severe adult mental illness if left untreated. Understanding teen mood disorders can guide you to obtaining the psychiatric help your teen will benefit from.

BNI Treatment Centers Treats Mood Disorders in Teens

BNI Treatment Centers is a leading residential mental health provider for teens, providing intensive treatment of mood disorders in teens. At BNI Treatment our psychiatric professionals will conduct a thorough review of mental health history, medical history, and utilized various diagnostic tools to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. From that point, a customized treatment plan will be designed for your son or daughter’s specific needs. For more information about teen mood disorders, please call us today at (888) 522-1504.

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