Treating Mood Disorders in Children and Adolescents

Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar, in children and adolescents are a major public health concern. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 14 percent of adolescents, ages 13 to 18 years old, and 3.7 percent of children, ages 8 to 15 years old, suffer from a mood disorder. Mood disorders in youth are often characterized by depressed or elevated mood, irritability, social withdrawal, and loss of interest along with sleep, concentration, and appetite disturbances. Such psychiatric conditions are debilitating and associated with social difficulties, academic failure, drug abuse, and, most critically, suicide.

Mount Sinai’s Pediatric Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program (P-MAP) is a specialized center with both clinical and research arms offering effective treatments for children and adolescents suffering from mood and anxiety disorders. Trained in child, adolescent, and adult psychiatry, our team of experts provides seamless care, which includes the latest advancements in pharmacotherapy, including antidepressant medications and mood stabilizers, as well as psychosocial interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy and family therapy. As part of our multidisciplinary team approach to care, psychiatrists and therapists meet weekly to discuss and evaluate each case and ensure the quality of therapeutic treatment.

“Patients turn to our program at every stage of illness—from those exhibiting the early symptoms of a disorder to those who have developed a challenging, treatment-resistant case,” says Vilma Gabbay, MD, MS, Chief of P-MAP and Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Mount Sinai. “Using evidence-based therapeutics and cognitive and behavioral techniques, we develop an individualized treatment plan for every patient that can help reduce their symptoms and improve their quality of life.”

Our physicians recognize that family dynamics are an important part of the treatment process and work closely with parents and siblings in family therapy sessions. In addition, our team partners with neuropsychologists to evaluate our patient’s cognitive, psychoeducational, and emotional functioning. Neuropsychological testing can provide helpful recommendations regarding learning, attention, and memory that can be applied both at home and in the school setting. We will also partner with school systems and social workers to help create the best learning environment for our patients.

It is critical that children and adolescents receive care as soon as their symptoms begin. Oftentimes, mood disorders among adolescents remain undiagnosed since behavioral issues are often simply associated with growing up. “Mood disorders during adolescence are strong predictors for these disorders in adulthood,” explains Dr. Gabbay. “Therefore, it is important that treatment is not delayed.”

Dr. Gabbay is also involved in innovative research that seeks to move discoveries found in the laboratory more quickly to the patient’s bedside. In particular, her work focuses on the neurobiology and pharmacotherapy of depression and related disorders in youth. She seeks to integrate multidisciplinary approaches for studying these disorders, including neuroimaging, neuroimmunology, and genetics. Utilizing these methods, she has uncovered evidence for increased inflammation and neurochemical alterations in depressed youth. Dr. Gabbay emphasizes the importance of identifying biological substrates of mood and anxiety disorders to facilitate early identification and prevention.