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The term “emotional disturbance” is an interesting one. After all, aren’t most of us emotionally disturbed at some time or another? Seems logical, as we ponder our lives thus far, that we’ve all suffered from some sort of emotional disturbance.

However, when used in the context of a diagnosis of a mental health disorder, the term “emotional disturbance” means much more than just being upset, angry, anxious, or depressed. It’s a phrase that refers to a group of disorders that can be totally debilitating and disastrous for the victim, which is why it’s so important to be educated about the diagnosis if it is affecting you or a loved one.

Which mood disorders qualify as emotional disturbance disorders?

The phrase “emotionally disturbed” has long been used in educational circles. As a matter of fact, laws that focus on individuals with disabilities and their educations recognize emotional disturbance mood disorders as a category eligible for special education services.

Disorders that fall into this category include:

  • Anxiety disorders, specifically amongst individuals that exhibit a core symptom of irrational fear.
  • Bipolar disorder, which is characterized by dramatic mood swings with changes in energy and behavior that accompany these swings.
  • Conduct disorders, diagnosed in children and adolescents, which involve difficulty following rules and behaving in a socially acceptable manner. (aggression, lying, destruction of property)
  • Eating disorders, which include extremes in eating behaviours such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder, characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors.
  • Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia as well as other disorders characterized by delusions and hallucinations.

All of these emotional disturbance mood disorders manifest in different ways but, in general, they will disrupt daily life for the sufferer, no matter their age.

Common symptoms of emotional disturbance mood disorders

Those who are diagnosed with an emotional disturbance mood disorder, especially children and adolescents, may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty developing and keeping relationships with peers/classmates as well as with adults at school and family at home. This is often caused by excessive fear or anxiety.
  • Learning difficulties that cannot be attributed to intellectual or sensory issues. A short attention span and “hyperactivity” are common contributors to these difficulties and can greatly affect learning.
  • An overwhelming sadness or depression that affects an individual’s performance at school or in other activities.
  • A display of inappropriate feelings or behaviors in response to situations that would be considered normal or should be easy to handle. Such reactions include inappropriate crying or temper tantrums.
  • The development of physical symptoms or overwhelming fear in relation to personal or school problems.
  • Aggression or self-injurious behavior are also common.

Causes of emotional disturbance mood disorders

Researchers have never really identified the exact cause of these disorders though there certainly are a number of hypotheses. In some of these disorders, such as schizophrenia, heredity seems to be a factor. In others, a brain disorder could be the culprit while others may be triggered simply by stress or life in a highly dysfunctional family.

Furthermore, these disorders don’t discriminate by age, gender, religion, nationality, wealth (or lack thereof),or sexual preference. Anyone can develop an emotional disturbance disorder. Furthermore, Covid-19 has likely contributed to the development of these disorders among children who have been kept out of school for long periods of time, who have lost loved ones, and who were themselves sick from the virus.

Seeking treatment

Students with emotional disturbance disorders are generally set up to fail in school if they don’t receive the diagnosis and subsequent treatment/support that they require.

There isn’t one particular solution for all of these disorders. Children (and adults) with such disorders will need to receive treatment based on their individual needs as each is very different. If you have identified such a problem in your child or if your school’s special education team has suggested that such a disorder may be present, it’s essential to speak to a professional who can begin to assist you in addressing the disorder and everything that goes along with it.

Dr. Ellie Bolgar and Associates has a long history of treating emotional disturbance mood disorders in children and adolescents and can work with you and your child’s school to determine how to proceed. In addition to therapy for children, Dr. Bolgar and her partners provide parents with the education and tools needed to support their young ones, with the goal of not only healing but also strengthening family relationships.

To schedule a consultation with one of our professionals, call us at 604-371-0198.