Mood Disorders


Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Your child might feel anxious when faced with a relational conflict, before taking a test or making an important decision. Anxiety can also be an adaptive part of life: it may prepare a child to be alert when needed and to confront potentially harmful situations. An anxiety disorder, in contrast, involves more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The anxiety may also involve inaccurate appraisals of situations or events, which then can then interfere with daily activities like schoolwork and social relationships.

There are a wide variety of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and specific phobias. Collectively, anxiety disorders are among the most common mental disorders and are treatable; please visit our psychotherapy page for more information on the different approaches our clinical staff may use. In addition, please visit our resources page for links to relevant websites, as well as book recommendations.


Every child occasionally feels blue or sad. Further, sadness as a child grieves the loss of their omnipotent fantasies is an important maturational step. Feelings of sadness in childhood are usually short-lived or at least are interwoven with feelings of contentment and happiness; however, extended feelings of sadness can interfere with daily life. The experience of depression often is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors.

Signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with medical treatment

For children in emotional distress, they can often find themselves involved in maladaptive, troublesome behaviors (e.g., temper tantrums, acting out) that serve as defenses against becoming directly—and fully—aware of their emotional frustrations. In this way, adults in the child’s life are “shown” how they feel. Many children mistakenly diagnosed with a behavior disorder (e.g., attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder) are more effectively treated by addressing the mood challenges underlying their behavior. For example, “oppositional” behaviors can also be viewed as a child’s attempt to gain control and autonomy over the circumstances in their life. Children in emotional distress often seek to recalibrate their inner equilibrium for developmentally appropriate needs by acting in a manner (e.g., oppositional) that regains a felt loss of autonomy and/or control.

The majority of children, even those with the most severe depression, can improve with treatment. Psychotherapy, medication and other methods can effectively treat children who experience elevated and chronic symptoms of sadness and even depression. Our clinical staff will assist you in determining the origins of your child’s mood challenges and, more importantly, help you put an intervention plan in place.

Other Types of Pediatric Assessments