Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: Recognizing Symptoms in Your Child

There are several mental health conditions out there that we are becoming more and more aware of. Many people do not realize that a person they love may be struggling. One disorder that has recently come to light is Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, or as most people refer to this; DMDD. Another common one is called oppositional defiant disorder.

Did you know that kids could be affected by mental illness health conditions including Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder just as well as adults? This is actually becoming more and more common, as children are often more mature than what children were hundreds of years ago.

What is Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder or DMDD?

What exactly is this disorder and what types of people does it affect? What are the causes of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder? These are questions that many people are asking, as this disorder is fairly new to the mental health condition list. According to the NIMH, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder is a childhood condition that is seen in children who show extreme irritability, anger and they have frequent temper outbursts.

How is this different than any other child who is out there? Doctors state that this goes beyond simply being a moody or spoiled child. Those children who do have Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder are often struggling in both life and school and must have mental health intervention while they are still young.

What is a Dysphoric Mood?

A dysphoric mood is a psychological condition. With this condition, those who have this mood often feel sad, depressed, have anxiety disorders or are simply lonely. It should be noted that mental health professionals do not consider this a true mood disorder, they often refer to this as a state of emotion instead.

Mood Disorder Definition

What is a mood disorder? A mood disorder is classified as a psychological disorder that is characterized by the elevation or lowering of a person’s mood. This is also referred to as an affective disorder. A person with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder may have feelings of happiness one minute, then the next be depressed or vice versa.

List of Symptoms of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

There are several symptoms that go along with a child having Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. Ultimately, parents describe a child who may be harder to handle because you never know where their emotions are going to go. A typical great day can turn into chaos because they have an angry outburst. However, for specific signs, most mental health professionals use the following list of symptoms for diagnosis:

  1. There are severe mood dysregulation outbursts that occur frequently. These temper outbursts may be verbal, or they can show physical aggression towards other people. Either way, they are classified as being out of proportion to their intensity as well as how long they last.
  2. The child is having these temper tantrums when they should have outgrown such behavior.
  3. These temper outbursts occur at least three times or more per week.
  4. The child is often in an irritable mood or angry in between these angry outbursts, and this is something that other people, like your child’s teacher, have noticed.
  5. The child has had this issue for a year or more. There was never a time when they did not have temper outbursts.
  6. The child is above the age of 6 years of age and below 18 years old.
  7. There has never been a full day in which you were not seeing signs of this disorder present in the child.
  8. The symptoms that the child has cannot be explained away by other mental disorders that are out there.
  9. These symptoms or the child struggling are taking place in more than one place, for example, teachers see this at school while parents also see this at home.

Outburst Definition

What is an outburst? For children with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, they are going to be fine one minute and then acting out the next. In this case, an outburst is when the person simply loses their sanity and calmness, yelling and screaming. They can also start to get physically violent, kicking the floor, walls, or the like. This outburst simply comes out of nowhere, as there does not seem to be a trigger for why the child started behaving this way.

Irritability or Angry Most of the Day

This is a huge sign that there may be something wrong with a child when they are irritable or angry most of the day. In these cases, there does not seem to be a reason why the child feels this way. However, it is these feelings that they deal with all day that leads them to an angry outburst later. These types of symptoms are going to last for a year or longer in order for a doctor to make the diagnosis that they do have disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Trouble Functioning

Perhaps one of the biggest symptoms that are seen in children who have disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is that they have trouble functioning in everyday life. They may have trouble at school. They could also have trouble with their home life and daily activities. When a child shows trouble functioning ‘normally’, along with having those angry outbursts and irritability throughout the day, these are often the clear signs that he or she could have disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

DMDD Diagnosis and Treatment

How is DMDD diagnosed? This is something that you, as the parent, will have to talk with your doctor about. You have to showcase that there is a problem and perhaps talk to a mental health professional. If the symptoms have been present for over a year or more, and the child fits the pattern of those with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, then a mental health professional will often state that Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder is the issue. Keep in mind this is a fairly new diagnosis on the market, thus many health professionals may not be entirely comfortable in making this diagnosis just yet! There is no harm in getting a second opinion if you feel it is necessary.

How is disruptive mood dysregulation disorder treated today? Since this is such a new type of disorder, treatments that are used are often those that they have used for similar disorders in the past that affect the mood. The two main types of treatments being used are medications and psychological treatments.

The three main categories of medications being used include stimulants which have been shown to decrease irritability, along with antidepressants that can help with children who simply feel lost and alone, along with an atypical antipsychotic. These are used when the child is having violent angry outbursts that may be a danger to themselves or those who are around them.

Psychologically, there are several treatment options for disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) to choose from, but doctors today are focusing on the top three listed below:

  1. Psychotherapy
  2. Parent Training
  3. Computer Based Training

It should be noted that psychological treatment is the first step to avoid putting children on those medications that are listed above. These medications have been studied for adults, but not young children. Hence, many doctors will want to try any other option first before they prescribe these treatment options for children.

With psychotherapy, children and teens with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder are taught how to deal with thoughts and emotions that cause them to feel angry, irritable or sad. It has been shown to be rather successful in people with mood disorders.

Parent training refers to helping parents with kids who have this disorder. They are taught what to do, what not to do, and the like. It also deals a great part with rewarding positive behavior in children as a means to help children not feel so angry and irritable. Parent training can also help children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders.

Computer-based training is a relatively new approach and not something that all doctors are on board with. The studies of those with disruptive mood dysregulation disorder show that many youths are prone to misperceiving the facial expressions of those who are around them. Instead of seeing them for how they are, they often interpret the person as being angry. This, in turn, makes the child lash out in anger even further. It is hoped that with this computer-based training, children can be trained to no longer see anger in everyone around them.

DMDD or Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder is something that many children are dealing with, and when the children are affected, so are the parents, teachers, siblings and the entire family. While this disorder may be new, thanks to the similarities to bipolar disorder, spectrum disorder and disruptive behavior, doctors can treat it successfully. For parents who believe their child may have this disorder, it is important to get them the help that they need as soon as possible.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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