6 things every teen should know about disruptive mood dysregulation disorder

Our teenage years can often bring about struggles with our emotions and mood. How can you tell if the emotions and moods you are experiencing are typical teenage experiences or something more serious?

What is disruptive mood dysregulation disorder?

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is a children’s mental health condition that causes chronic, intense irritability and frequent outbursts. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is different from typical bouts of moodiness. The outbursts are out of proportion to the situation triggering it. Typical childhood moodiness does not affect daily life, but disruptive mood dysregulation disorder does affect daily life. 

As a recently accepted mental health condition, the precise determination of how common it is isn’t yet known. Early research shows that it can affect up to 5% of U.S. children. It is more common in males than females. 

What are symptoms of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder?

Symptoms of DMDD are apparent by age 10, and the condition is not diagnosed before the age of 6. As it is a childhood condition, it is not diagnosed after the age of 18. There can be a maturation element to symptoms and they can decrease with age.

Those who experience disruptive mood dysregulation disorder experience difficulty at home, at school and with their peers. Symptoms can include:

  • Irritability and angry moods occurring most of the day and almost every day

  • Severe temper outbursts, verbally or behaviorally, that are not proportional to the situation, occurring several times a week

  • Issues functioning at home or at school with peers, which are affected due to irritability

  • Symptoms occurring for at least 12 months, without a span of no symptoms for three months

  • Symptoms not attributed to another condition such as depression, mania, autism, oppositional defiant disorder or other mental health condition

  • Inability to control extreme emotions

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder can occur concurrently with other mental health conditions, including:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Autism

There is not a universal agreement on DMDD by professionals. There is no guideline of treatment by diagnosis, but based on symptoms experienced.

What can cause disruptive mood dysregulation disorder?

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is a relatively newly recognized condition that appears to be caused by a combination of factors (environmental, biological, genetic and psychological).

Brain imaging shows that brains affected by DMDD look different than those unaffected. Parts of the brain responsible for mood regulation, sleep, appetite, thinking and behavior function abnormally in affected brains. 

Episodes can be triggered by trauma, a difficult relationship, the loss of a loved one or a stressful situation. 

Research is being done on a possible genetic factor, as some other mood disorders can have genetic factors.

How is disruptive mood dysregulation disorder treated?

Current treatments for disruptive mood dysregulation disorder are based on symptoms and how those symptoms are treated in other conditions. These treatments can work for treating the same symptoms in this condition. Medication and therapy are two treatments currently used to help treat DMDD.

Therapy is often recommended as the first treatment for this condition. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is used to help treat DMDD. Psychotherapy treatments for this condition may include:

  • Process-based therapy (PBT) — At Lightfully, we use process-based therapy as our clinical model. With the help of a licensed mental health professional, you can work together to identify which of the four key processes (emotions, thoughts, relationships and/or behaviors) you are struggling with. These processes make up all mental health conditions. Once your therapist has identified one or more you’re struggling with, your therapist will then pull from science-backed treatments that can help you. A few of the therapeutic modalities your therapist may recommend include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — CBT is performed by a licensed mental health professional. It is one of the most common forms of psychotherapy. In the CBT approach, a therapist helps you examine your thoughts and emotions and how these affect your actions. CBT can help you unlearn negative thoughts and behaviors while learning healthy coping skills.

  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) — DBT is similar to CBT. It is adapted to help people who experience very intense emotions. This can help you learn how to regulate your emotions and avoid prolonged or extreme outbursts.

PBT is an approach that takes the best of CBT, DBT and other modalities and is fully personalized for each person.

For some people with DMDD, medication can be used as another treatment that works alongside therapy. Medications used for treatment for DMDD can include:

  • Stimulants

  • Antidepressants

  • Atypical antipsychotics 

How can you help yourself cope?

In addition to therapy or medication treatments, there are steps you can take to help take care of yourself. Helping yourself can look like the following:

  • Work to understand your triggers and have a plan in place to avoid or cope with triggers. Removing yourself from certain situations can help.

  • Talk to your parents or guardians. This can help you all communicate and work better together.

  • If you’re struggling at school, ask a teacher or a counselor for support at school.

  • Take time out. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed and about to have an outburst, take a step back. 

Are there any future risks from disruptive mood dysregulation disorder?

While outbursts and aggression may decrease with age, teens with DMDD can still be more likely to:

  • Develop other mental health conditions like severe depression or anxiety

  • Have legal problems due to run-ins with the law for aggression or other risky behaviors

  • Fall into substance use

  • Have financial or educational problems

  • Have social, familial or romantic relationship issues

Lightfully Teen wants to help you learn to take control back of your life from DMDD

At Lightfully Behavioral Health, we’re here to help you learn how to cope in a healthy way with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. The feelings and emotions you are dealing with are a valid part of the human experience, and we want to help you achieve your goals of improving your quality of life. Our mission is to compassionately help you change your life from the aggression and overwhelming emotions that come with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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