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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?


During three decades on Australian television, two simple words brought us to attention.

‘Hello daaaahling’. Outrageous, flamboyant, iconic – Jeanne Little captivated Australians everywhere with her unique style, cockatoo shrill voice and fashion sense. "Mum wasn't just the life of the party, she was the party.” Katie Little, Jeanne’s daughter remembers. This icon of Australian television brought a smile into Australian homes. Tragically, today Jeanne can't walk, talk or feed herself. She doesn't recognise anyone, with a random sound or laugh the only glimpse of who she truly is. Jeanne Little has Alzheimer's disease. The 1,000 Brains Study NeuRA is very excited to announce the 1,000 Brains Study, a ground-breaking research project to identify the elements in our brains that cause life-changing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other dementias. This study will focus on the key unresolved question: why do some of us develop devastating neurodegenerative diseases, while others retain good brain health? The study will compare the genomes of people who have reached old age with healthy brains against the genomes of those who have died from neurodegenerative diseases, with post mortem examination of brain tissue taking place at NeuRA’s Sydney Brain Bank. More information on the study can be found here. Will you please support dementia research and the 1,000 Brains Study and help drive the future of genetics research in Australia?