Discussing Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Though all child behaviors are a form of non-verbal communication, sometimes child behavior can communicate hard-to-assess disorders. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD) is a disorder commonly seen in children and teens. This disorder is characterized by abnormally chronic bad moods and excessive outbursts. Teens do “grow out” of DMDD, but there are ways to ease the symptoms during childhood.

What Is Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder?

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, DMDD is “a childhood condition of extreme irritability, anger, and frequent, intense outbursts.” This condition goes far beyond normal emotional moodiness and often requires clinical attention. DMDD’s origin is unknown as this is a relatively new diagnosis, but it was published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013.

Children with DMDD live with constant anger and irritability not by choice, but due to their condition. It is hard for them to function at home or with others, and they may struggle with school and other activities. DMDD can affect a child’s ability to make friends, learn important social skills, and enjoy activities, which can put the child at risk of further difficulties in adulthood. Children with DMDD who don’t learn the skills necessary to thrive in adulthood may end up developing depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders. Children do “grow out” of DMDD by adulthood, but the impact DMDD had on their growth and development can affect their emotional maturity and ability to adapt in adulthood significantly.

Scientists are unsure if there is a specific cause for DMDD, but many children diagnosed have a genetic history of mental illness or a source of trauma that contributes to DMDD.

Symptoms of Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Symptoms of disruptive mood dysregulation disorder can vary. According to NIMH, DMDD is a diagnosis only given to children and adolescents between the ages of six and eighteen. They must also have the symptoms listed below for at least 12 months:

  • Irritable or angry mood most days, all day
  • Severe verbal or behavioral outbursts averaging at least three per week that are unprovoked, not deemed “normal” or with cause, and not reflecting appropriate or “normal” levels for their age and emotional maturity
  • Trouble functioning due to major irritability in more than one space, like at school, home, with friends or family, etc. This can be characterized by excessive rule-breaking, social problems, and attention problems

For both the afflicted child and their family, DMDD can be extremely tiring and stressful. Living through the above symptoms can be taxing for children and families, and lots of family trauma and unpleasant memories can make the child’s future seem uncertain. Thankfully there are treatments for DMDD, but they require patience and education on the part of parents.

Treatment for Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder

Due to DMDD’s being a relatively new condition, current treatments are similar to other mood disorders or those that have disruptive anger and outbursts as symptoms. There are two main types of treatment for DMDD: medication and psychological treatments.

Medication: As with all medications, they should be approved and prescribed only by the child’s doctor. Many medications have different side effects. As no one medication works for all children diagnosed with DMDD, the first medication your child tries may not work best for them. Finding the right medication requires trial and error. What’s important is that parents listen to their child and talk through these things with them. The types of medication a child with DMDD may benefit from include:

  • Stimulants
  • Antidepressants
  • Atypical antipsychotics

Psychological Treatments: Therapy and other psychological treatments are highly beneficial for children with DMDD and parents or families of those with DMDD. Therapy can help the child identify what they are feeling, what is causing it (if there is a cause), and steps to calm down and react proportionally to the situation. Family therapy can also help families heal from stressors and trauma DMDD may cause or be a result of.

  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy): This form of therapy allows the child to talk one-on-one or with their families and get perspective, insight, and strategies from the therapist to help the child through their condition.
  • Parent Training: Parent training is help from a therapist to show parents how to meet their child’s needs and to identify strategies for success in mitigating or preventing outbursts.
  • Computer-based training: Studies suggest that children with DMDD struggle processing facial expressions and they often take ambiguous or resting faces to be negative, making them think everyone around them is angry or upset with them and causing outbursts. Computer training that helps these children read facial expressions better can help mitigate such outbursts.

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder is not a catch-all for children’s irritabilities. This disorder is truly debilitating to many children’s everyday functioning and can have a significant impact on a child’s adulthood if not dealt with in childhood. Many children with this disorder may have trauma either as a result or a cause of DMDD. Parents who suspect their child may have DMDD should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment options. For more help, contact Havenwood Academy. Havenwood Academy is a long-term facility for teen girls who display major behavioral or emotional issues, often stemming from trauma. Our professional and experienced staff use multi-faceted approaches and a myriad of evidence-based theories to help teen girls with severe trauma and other mental health or behavioral disorders. All treatments are trauma-informed and are meant to help these young women develop skills for success after Havenwood Academy. Call us today at (435) 586-2500 for more information.


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