Girl with a frowning face drawn on paper in front of her own face

Childhood disorders


Understanding the causes of mood and behavioural disorders


Mood disorders

Occasional feelings of depression or anxiety are a normal part of life. When these become so severe or persistent that they significantly impact how one feels most of the time, or affect one’s day to day functioning, it may signal the presence of a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder. Although less common than in adults, children and adolescents can also suffer from mood disorders. These can appear somewhat different in young people: for example, a child with depression may be more likely to show this as irritability than sadness. Children and adolescents may also have more difficulty in identifying and communicating about their feelings than adults.

Many factors can contribute to a child or adolescent developing a mood disorder. Mood disorders can run in families, and many genes have been linked to risk for depression and bipolar disorder, but other factors such as stress and physical health problems can also be important. As mood disorders become more common during adolescence, it is likely factors associated with development such as puberty also play a role.

Behavioural disorders

It is normal for children to occasionally be naughty, defiant or impulsive from time to time. Behavioural disorders, however, occur when this behaviour is extremely difficult or challenging beyond what would be considered normal for their age.

The most common behavioural disorders include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  ODD is associated with a persistent pattern of an angry or irritable mood, being argumentative, or vindictiveness. Conduct disorder involves doing things that violate the rights of other people or major societal norms, such as threatening people, starting fights, theft, and vandalizing. ADHD is not necessarily associated with being defiant or breaking rules, but young people with ADHD who are very impulsive may find themselves getting in trouble anyway. Not all children with ADHD are hyperactive: some instead have problems with being organized and sustaining attention, which can also affect things like social interactions and sport, as well as school performance.


An MRI study of emotion processing in boys

The goal of this study is to use functional magnetic resonance imaging to better understand brain activity in children with different kinds of conduct problems, and to determine whether an intervention to change visual attention in children with conduct problems affects brain activity and emotional responses in response to signs of distress in others.

Like Father Like Son: Fathers Against Violence and Aggression

A national collaboration of health researchers, clinicians, policy leaders and consumer groups to put into place a range of innovative strategies such as web-based parenting programs to enhance participation of fathers and creating changes in policy and clinical practice at a national level.

What else is happening in Childhood disorders research at NeuRA?


'I've got the best job for you dad. Your shaky arm will be perfect for it!'

Children… honest and insightful. Their innocence warms the heart. But what words do you use to explain to a child that daddy has an incurable brain disease? What words tell them that in time he may not be able to play football in the park, let alone feed himself? What words help them understand that in the later stages, dementia may also strike? Aged just 36, this was the reality that faced Steve Hartley. Parkinson's disease didn't care he was a fit, healthy, a young dad and devoted husband. It also didn't seem to care his family had no history of it. The key to defeating Parkinson's disease is early intervention, and thanks to a global research team, led by NeuRA, we're pleased to announce that early intervention may be possible. Your support, alongside national and international foundations Shake it Up Australia and the Michael J Fox Foundation, researchers have discovered that a special protein, found in people with a family history of the disease increases prior to Parkinson’s symptoms developing. This is an incredible step forward, because it means that drug therapies, aimed at blocking the increase in the protein, can be administered much earlier – even before symptoms strike. The next step is to understand when to give the drug therapies and which people will most benefit from it. But we need your help. A gift today will support vital research and in time help medical professionals around the world treat Parkinson’s disease sooner, with much better health outcomes. Thank you, in advance, for your support.