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.
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.
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.
Research Officer Dr Alex Shaw joined NeuRA after completing a PhD in cancer research. He is investigating the genetic underpinnings of bipolar disorder. There is no single cause of bipolar disorder, but understanding how factors such as brain structure and genetics contribute to its development will help researchers to know how to best diagnose, treat and, hopefully, prevent the disorder. […]