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?


The cold case of schizophrenia - broken wide open!

‘It is like they were miraculously healed!’’ Schizophrenia is diagnosed by clinical observation of behaviour and speech. This is why NeuRA researchers are working hard to understand the biological basis of the illness. Through hours of work and in collaboration with doctors and scientists here and around the world, NeuRA has made an amazing breakthrough. For the first time, researchers have discovered the presence of antibodies in the brains of people who lived with schizophrenia. Having found these antibodies, it has led NeuRA researchers to ask two questions. What are they doing there? What should we do about the antibodies– help or remove them? This is a key breakthrough. Imagine if we are treating schizophrenia all wrong! It is early days, but can you imagine the treatment implications if we’ve identified a new biological basis for the disease? It could completely change the way schizophrenia is managed, creating new treatments that will protect the brain. More than this, could we be on the verge of discovering a ‘curable’ form of schizophrenia? How you can help We are so grateful for your loyal support of schizophrenia research in Australia, and today I ask if you will consider a gift today. Or, to provide greater confidence, consider becoming a Discovery Partner by making a monthly commitment. We believe there is great potential to explore these findings. Will you help move today’s breakthrough into tomorrow’s cure? To read more about this breakthrough, click ‘read the full story’ below. You are also invited to read ‘Beth’s story’, whose sweet son Marcus lived with schizophrenia, by clicking here.