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Teen Girls' Health

Just a Bad Day? Or a Mood Disorder?

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By Jennifer Ashton, M.D., Ob-Gyn with Christine Larson
WebMD Feature by “The Body Scoop for Girls”


We all get in a bad mood sometimes (I sure do—just ask my family!). But most of the time we get over it. The good news is, as you become more mature, you also get smarter about what helps you get out of a bad mood. One patient of mine realized that she got bitchy whenever she stopped exercising—now she makes a point to get to the gym five days a week. Another patient discovered that when she’s doing yoga regularly she’s more patient with herself and her family. Some of my patients go to a movie, escape into a book, or listen to their iPods. Even if none of our usual tricks work, most of us know that sooner or later something will snap us back into our normal happy selves.

Did You Know?

More Than One in Ten Teens Get Major Depression

Major depressive episodes—times of severe, persistent depression, sometimes with loss of appetite, exhaustion, lethargy, sleep problems, or thoughts of self-harm—are surprisingly common in teens.

  • In 2005, 3–4 million youths ages twelve to seventeen had at least one major depressive episode. That’s 13.7 percent of the youth population.
  • Girls are more likely to have major depressive episodes than boys. About 13.3 percent of girls ages twelve to seventeen have had one, compared with 4.5 percent of boys.
  • Having a major depressive episode is associated with higher rates of drug or alcohol problems—19.8 percent of youths who had major depressive episodes have had a problem with illegal substances, including alcohol.

Dr. Ashton's Moody Blues Playlist

  • Depression is a disease, like high blood pressure. Don’t be embarrassed to have it, and please don’t think it’s a personal shortcoming.
  • You’re not alone. One in ten American teens and children suffer from a mental illness significant enough to affect their day-to-day life.
  • Mood disorders are not all in your head. You can’t think your way out with a positive mental attitude. You need help. Seeking out help shows how mature you are.

But people with mood disorders can’t help themselves feel normal. Their blues aren’t something the Jonas Brothers or a few old episodes of Gilmore Girls can cure. Instead people with mood disorders have a biological condition that they truly can’t treat themselves. Two of the most common mood disorders are depression and bipolar disorder (where depression alternates with out-of-control elation).

Mood disorders are one kind of mental disorder—a category that also includes eating disorders, social phobias, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. So, technically, if you have depression, you have a mental disorder. But that does not mean you’re crazy. It means your body’s not working right. Specifically researchers think mental illnesses, including mood disorders, result from chemical imbalances in the brain. It’s not your fault if you have one. And it’s great if you realize that you have symptoms, because fortunately mood disorders (and most mental illnesses in general) are treatable. And the sooner you start treating them, the better.

Whether you have a mental disorder or just a case of the normal blues, it’s important to understand what’s normal and what isn’t, and how to find help.

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