What does mood disorder N.O.S mean?

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Answered by: Christy, An Expert in the Adolescent Mental Health Community Category
When a parent is at the end of their rope because their child is having behavior problems at school and at home, a recommendation to see a doctor can be enough to take us right to the edge. Then we get to the doctor, and they throw out words like Mood disorder N.O.S. We, as parents, don't live under a rock, so we know the words Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Social Anxiety Disorder, but that isn't what we get. Why can't they just give us a clear cut explanation of what is going on with our child. If we know what it is, we can fix it, right? Take a breath. There is an answer.

Not Otherwise Specified, or N.O.S, is given as a diagnosis when symptoms indicate that there is a dysfunction in the patient's ability to stabilize the mood, but without giving a definitive cause or strict course of treatment. Medications that are given to treat named disorders, like Bipolar, are usually not recommended for children under 22 years of age, because their brains do not fully develop until then, so a diagnosis of mood disorder N.O.S. allows doctors to narrow down and eliminate those medications as treatment options. Preventing damaging and possibly long lasting side effects while trying to find a medication that works is tricky, so having a separate classification helps with this process.

N.O.S is a diagnosis that is given when a behavior or collection of behaviors appears to point to a certain disorder, like Bipolar 1 or Schizophrenia, but something disqualifies the actual disorder as a diagnosis. With children and adolescents, age is a major factor for several disorders. It was believed for a long time that children did not present with things like Bipolar 1 and Schizophrenia until adulthood. Their brains have not fully developed so they could grow out of it or it could be any number of things that present with similar symptoms. It gets classified as a disorder, but not a specific one, like Anxiety Disorder or Autism.

Mental health practitioners are also aware that there is a stigma that comes with a mental health diagnosis. It is waning, as more and more people become aware of what a mood disorder is, but it still carries a burden that children should not have to deal with, so getting a diagnosis of mood disorder, which can be anything from lack of food, not enough sleep, or a chemical imbalance, not otherwise specified, should tell you that there is a dysfunction, but at this point in time, an actual diagnosis is not available or advisable.

It's a scary thing to have a child that is struggling with life and not knowing what to do about it. Not having answers, or answers that don't mean anything to you, can make it even harder. You aren't alone. Do the best you can, learn as much as you can, and remind them, without words, that they are loved, despite a diagnosis of mood disorder, not otherwise specified.

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