Children's Mental Health

Mounting School Stress Can Set off Mood Disturbances

13525405_mIt’s common knowledge that chronic stress can lead to physical illness like heart problems and even the growth of tumors , according to some studies. Ongoing stress has also been linked with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

With standardized testing underway for area elementary and middle schools and with high school and college students preparing for end-of-semester finals, it’s important to remember the serious toll that stress can take on children and young adults.

According to psychiatrist Melissa DelBello, MD, who serves at the University of Cincinnati as co-director of the Division of Bipolar Disorders Research, once the stresses of school set in, the kids are at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. But how can parents know the symptoms? According to a recent article parents should watch for extreme irritability, explosive temper tantrums, and volatile mood shifts. While Dr. DelBello acknowledges that children of all ages at some point experience irritability and moodiness, the key is to look for signs of impaired functioning.

She advises that if children aged 12 to 18 are consistently unable or unwilling to learn in a classroom setting or if they are not participating in class and completing assignments, there may be a problem. Poor functioning at school can be accompanied by persistent social problems with classmates and family members as well.

Most kids start the school year off excited, ready to go back and reunite with friends. However, as time goes on, the ‘honeymoon phase’ as Dr. DeBello refers to it, quickly wears off when the reality of coursework sets in. She warns parents to be vigilant regarding the physical manifestations of stress, which can trigger mood disturbances such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Parents who suspect their children’s behavioral issues may be rooted in something deeper than normal mood fluctuations should contact the Family Guidance Center. Mental health professionals at Family Guidance Center can perform professional assessments, regardless of income. As Dr. DeBello points out, a formal assessment is necessary to develop the best course of treatment for both child and family. As a parent, it’s important to trust your gut because early prognosis leads to the best outcomes for treatment.