Children are increasingly being prescribed pharmaceutical medication to help them deal with emotional and behavioral problems as well as mood symptoms.
What Types of Emotional, Behavioral and Mood Symptoms Are Commonly Seen in Our Kids?
- Depression: May be exhibited as anger with mood swings
- Unable to adapt to stressful situations
- Excessive rigidity
- Excessive anxiety, panic
- Obsessive compulsive behaviors: Persistent thoughts, impulses, behaviors
- Excessive anger
- Hostile behavior
- Oppositional behavior
- Intense fear
- Difficulty falling asleep
Common Diagnoses of Mood, Emotional and Behavioral Problems
Here are some of the more common diagnoses:
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Cyclothymic disorder
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
What Your Doctor May Tell You About Mood, Emotional and Behavioral Problems
Your doctor will most likely suggest therapy and counseling at school and/or private therapy and counseling depending on the severity of the situation. She might also suggest removing any triggers that might be causing behavioral issues in your child or, if there are marital problems between you and your spouse, to seek counseling to improve family relations and circumstances. Many doctors may also recommend psychoactive pharmaceutical medications.
Another Way of Thinking about Mood, Emotional and Behavioral Problems
There are many stressors in a child’s life today, and they could be physical, emotional, educational, environmental, or biological. It is most likely a perfect storm of these varied stressors that ultimately contribute to a child’s mood and behavioral symptoms. Many times doctors offer cognitive or psychiatric therapy or even pharmaceutical solutions without first looking to see what might be the root cause, which is often physiological, of the symptoms.
For example, the relationship between food and mood/behaviors is often overlooked. Similarly, inadequate sleep can impact mood and behavior. Researchers are beginning to uncover the important role that immune dysregulation and gastrointestinal disorders may play in the role of mood disorders such as biopolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia and others.
Like autism, mood disorders have long been understood as “brain-based,” often genetically-determined disorders best managed by psychiatrists. In reality, these mental health diagnoses are really just symptoms of larger systemic medical problems, usually involving some element of gut dysbiosis, immune dysregulation, or mitochondrial dysfunction. Many of these biological problems stem from certain environmental exposures.
While psychiatrists may certainly be helpful in managing these disorders, they are not necessarily trained to look for the root cause of their patient’s medical issues. What’s more, many of the pharmaceuticals prescribed to manage these conditions may actually make the conditions worse in the long run.
A physician or healthcare provider trained in integrative or functional medicine may be able to find underlying medical issues and suggest medical protocols that will help heal these underlying systemic problems.
Mood, Emotional and Behavioral Problems Checklist to Start
Before resorting to medications or behavior modification therapies, consider the following underlying issues:
- Address diet: reduce fast foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates (breads, cereals), inflammatory vegetable oils (such as corn, soy oil), chemically processed foods, GMOs, soda, etc. For a child with severe mood and behavioral issues, elimination of junk food is square one.
- Look for food sensitivities: They can have a profound impact on mood and behavior.
- Learn more about Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This could be contributing to anxiety, especially if your child snores or is a mouth breather.
- Have primitive reflexes checked: People with anxiety often have retained reflexes, especially the Moro reflex, which leads to being in a state of constant fight or flight.
- Check for:
- Create a safe environment:
Consider lifestyle contribution:
- Is your child getting 10 hours of sleep per night (or more if your child is under 10)?
- An hour of exercise or movement per day?
- Drinking half his body weight in ounces of water?
Make dietary changes:
Is your child craving and eating primarily a refined carbohydrate, high sugar, trans-fatty acids and fast food diet? Eliminate all processed foods, and eat a whole foods diet. Foods with artificial colors, artificial flavors, natural flavors, preservatives, phenols and salicylates have been linked to mood and behavioral symptoms since at least the 1970’s.
- Eat whole foods
- Buy organic foods
- Remove all GMO foods
- Remove all fast and processed foods
- Remove all foods with:
- Artificial colors
- Artificial ingredients
- With an elimination diet, remove potentially inflammatory foods such as:
- Strictly limit:
- Refined salt
- Refined carbohydrates
- Consider implementing a low glutamate diet and/or the Feingold diet
Include plenty of good quality fats, such as:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Wild salmon
- Organic chicken
- Organic turkey
- Grass-fed ghee
- Pasture-raised eggs
- Grass-fed beef
- Essential fatty acids from:
- Cod liver oil
- Hemp seeds
- Flax seeds
- Evening primrose oil
- Borage oil
- Walnut oil
Heal the gut with special diets such as:
- GAPS (Gut And Psychology Syndrome) diet
- Paleo diet
- GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet
- Body Ecology Diet
- Modified Atkins Diet (replaces the Ketogenic diet)
Learn more about healing diets and foods.
Clean up your environment:
Have you identified and removed possible environmental triggers, such as mold, dust, pet dander, and electromagnetic fields (EMFs)?
Have you identified and removed possible toxic exposures in the home from purchased products, such as detergents, soaps, lotions, and other cleaning and personal care products?
- Remove animals (both live and stuffed!)
- Remove carpets
- Use non-toxic cleaners
- Use non-toxic building materials
- Green your home
Ask your pediatrician to run some laboratory tests for:
- Possible food sensitivities and allergies
- Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) IgG, IgA, IgE and IgM
- Nutritional deficiencies in vitamins and minerals. The NutrEval by Genova Diagnostics Labs covers the following areas:
- Cellular energy
- Mitochondrial metabolism
- Neurotransmitter metabolism
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Toxin exposure
- Detoxification need
- Bacterial and yeast overgrowth
- Gluten and casein sensitivities
- Organic acids: The organic acid test by Great Plains Laboratory for yeast overgrowth and Candida, oxalates, and other microbial infections
Add fermented foods and probiotics daily:
These will keep the gastrointestinal system and microbiome healthy and strong which in turn will keep the immune system strong.
- Eat kefir yogurts
- Eat fermented vegetables
- Eat umeboshi plums (very alkalizing)
- Eat miso soup, if soy is tolerated
Some good probiotics are:
- Gut Pro
- Dr. Ohirra’s Live Cultured Probiotics
- Garden of Life
- Klaire Labs
- Test for:
- Test for the presence of chronic infections such as Lyme and coinfectors, or strep. Your child’s mood and behavioral issues could be the result of chronic Lyme and/or PANS/PANDAS, both of which are associated with obsessive compulsive behaviors, anxiety, depression and other “psychiatric” symptoms.
- Attend to issues of:
- Too much computer usage
- Not enough movement/exercise/outdoor sports activity
- Inappropriate curriculum
- Too much noise
- Family issues
- Unrealistic expectations
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of successes
- Too much failure
- Other experiences that may be impacting your child’s emotional well-being
Still Looking for Answers?
Sources & References
Andreazza, A.C., et al. Mitochondrial complex I activity and oxidative damage to mitochondrial proteins in the prefrontal cortex of patients with bipolar disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Apr;67(4):360-8.
Atladottir, H.O., et al. The increasing prevalence of reported diagnoses of childhood psychiatric disorders: a descriptive multinational comparison. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015;24(2):173-83.
Berk, M., et al. So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Med. 2013;11:200.
Berry, E.A., et al. National estimates of the inpatient burden of pediatric bipolar disorder in the United States. J Ment Health Policy Econ. 2011;14(3):115-23.
Bayer, J.K., et al. The Cool Little Kids randomised controlled trial: population-level early prevention for anxiety disorders. BMC Public Health. 2011;11:11.
Bergamaschi, M.M., et al. Cannabidiol Reduces the Anxiety Induced by Simulated Public Speaking in Treatment-Naïve Social Phobia Patients. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 (36), 1219–1226.
Beyer, K.M.M., et al. Exposure to neighborhood green space and mental health: evidence from the survey of the health of Wisconsin. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Mar 21;11(3):3453-72.
Bitsko, R.H., et al. Epidemiology and Impact of Health Care Provider-Diagnosed Anxiety and Depression Among US Children. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2018 Apr 24.
Blessing, E.M., et al. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015 Oct; 12(4): 825–836.
Bonnot, O., et al. Children and adolescents with severe mental illness need vitamin D supplementation regardless of disease or treatment. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2011;21(2):157-61.
Bora, S.A., et al. Regulation of vitamin D metabolism following disruption of the microbiota using broad spectrum antibiotics. J Nutr Biochem. 2018 Jun;56:65-73.
Boyle, N.B., et al. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Apr 26;9(5):429.
Bravo, J.A., et al. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050-5.
Breier, A.B., et al. The GABAA/benzodiazepine receptor: implications for the molecular basis of anxiety. J Psychiatric Res. 1990;24 Suppl 2:91-104.
Camilleri, M. Serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract. Curr Opin Endrocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2009 Feb;16(1):53-9.
Ceylan, M.F., et al. Lipid peroxidation markers in children with anxiety disorders and their diagnostic implications. Redox Rep. 2014;19(2):92-6.
Cohen-Cline, H., et al. Access to green space, physical activity and mental health: a twin study. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2015 Jun;69(6):523-9.
Costello, E.J., et al. 10-year research update review: the epidemiology of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders: II. Developmental epidemiology. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2006 Jan;45(1):8–25.
Darling, A.L., et al. Association between maternal vitamin D status in pregnancy and neurodevelopmental outcomes in childhood: results from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Br J Nutr. 2017 Jun;117(12):1682-1692.
Dusetzina, S.B., et al. Treatment use and costs among privately insured youths with diagnoses of bipolar disorder. Psychiatr Serv. 2012;63(10):1019-25.
Guney, E., et al. Oxidative stress in children and adolescents with anxiety disorders. J Affect Disord. 2014;156:62-6.
Fernandes, A.C., et al. Development and evaluation of a de-identification procedure for a case register sourced from mental health electronic records. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2013;13:71.
Hepgul, N., et al. Depression pathogenesis and treatment: what can we learn from blood mRNA expression? BMC Med. 2013;11:28.
Karakula, H., et al. [Does diet affect our mood? The significance of folic acid and homocysteine]. Pol Merkur Lekarski. 2009;26(152):136-41.
Kato, T. The role of mitochondrial dysfunction in bipolar disorder. Drug News Perspect. 2006 Dec;19(10):597-602.
Kelly, J.R., et al. Breaking down the barriers: the gut microbiome, intestinal permeability and stress-related psychiatric disorders. Front Cell Neurosci. 2015 Oct 14;9:392.
Konradi, C., et al. Molecular evidence for mitochondrial dysfunction in bipolar disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004 Mar;61(3):300-8.
Leuchter, A.F., et al. Intermediate phenotypes and biomarkers of treatment outcome in major depressive disorder. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2014;16(4):525-37.
Li, X., et al. Effect of Fluoride Exposure on Anxiety- And Depression-Like Behavior in Mouse. Chemosphere. 2019 Jan;215:454-460.
Marazziti, D., et al. Psychiatric disorders and mitochondrial dysfunctions. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2012;16(2):270-5.
Memon, A., et al. Association between naturally occurring lithium in drinking water and suicide rates: systematic review and meta-analysis of ecological studies. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2020 Dec; 217(6): 667-678.
Mitchell, E.S., et al. B vitamin polymorphisms and behavior: evidence of associations with neurodevelopment, depression, schizophrenia,bipolar disorder and cognitive decline. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014;47:307-20.
The GABA system in anxiety and depression and its therapeutic potential. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan;62(1):42-53.
Essential elements in depression and anxiety. Part I. Pharmacol Rep. 2014 Aug;66(4):534-44.
Nuss, P. Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015; 11: 165–175.
Ostiguy, C.S., et al. Sensitivity to stress among the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder: a study of daytime cortisol levels. Psychol Med. 2011;41(11):2447-57.
Papagianni, E.G., et al. Cannabinoid Regulation of Fear and Anxiety: an Update. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2019 (21): 38.
Rollins, B., et al. Mitochondrial variants in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. PLoS One. 2009;4(3):e4913.
Rook, G.A., et al. Microbiota, immunoregulatory old friends and psychiatric disorders. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;817:319-56.
Sartori, S.B., et al. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan;62(1):304-12.
Savage, K., et al. GABA-modulating phytomedicines for anxiety: A systematic review of preclinical and clinical evidence. Phytother Res. 2018 Jan;32(1):3-18.
Shannon, S., et al. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. Perm J. 2019;23:18-041.
Skelley, J.W., et al. Use of cannabidiol in anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. J Am Pharm Assoc. Jan-Feb 2020;60(1):253-261.
Taurines, R., et al. Expression analyses of the mitochondrial complex I 75-kDa subunit in early onset schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder: increased levels as a potential biomarker for early onset schizophrenia. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 May;19(5):441-8.
Thompson, L., et al. What have birth cohort studies asked about genetic, pre- and perinatal exposures and child and adolescent onset mental health outcomes? A systematic review. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010;19(1):1-15.
Van Meter, A.R., et al. What goes up must come down: the burden of bipolar depression in youth. J Affect Disord. 2013;150(3):1048-54.
Warner, B.B. The contribution of the gut microbiome to neurodevelopment and neuropsychiatric disorders. Pediatr Res. 2019 Jan;85(2):216-224.
Yang, B., et al. Effects of regulating intestinal micobiota on anxiety symptoms: A systematic review. General Psychiatry. 2019; 32: e100056.
Brogan, Kelly. A Mind of Your Own. The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives. New York, Harper, 2016.
Doman, Glenn. What To Do About Your Brain-Injured Child, or Your Brain-Damaged, Mentally Retarded, Mentally Deficient, Cerebral-Palsied, Emotionally Disturbed, Spastic, Flaccid, Rigid, Epileptic, Autistic, Athetoid, Hyperactive, Down’s Child. Garden City, New York. Doubleday; 1990.
Guyol, G. Who’s Crazy Here?: Steps for Recovery Without Drugs for ADD/ADHD, Addiction & Eating Disorders, Anxiety & PTSD, Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Autism. 1st U.S. ed. Stonington, CT: Ajoite Pub.; 2010.
Hyman, Mark. The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First: The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety and Sharpen Your Mind. 1st Scribner hardcover ed. New York: Scribner; 2008.