Children and Bipolar Disorder

Mary Johnson
December 14, 2012 — 1,700 views  
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Bipolar Disorder can affect anyone and if one or both parents have Bipolar Disorder, the chances are greater that their children may develop the disorder. Bipolar Disorder can begin in childhood and during the teenage years, although it is usually diagnosed in adult life.  One of the reasons that Bipolar Disorder is usually not identified in childhood/teenage years is that diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, in children, is not clear cut as some of the signs are similar to those that occur in teenagers with other problems such as drug abuse, delinquency, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or even schizophrenia.

Children and teenagers with Bipolar Disorder have manic and/or depressive symptoms.  Some may have mostly depression whilst others a combination of manic and depressive symptoms.

Some of the manic symptoms can include:

>          Demonstration of unrealistic highs in self-esteem – for example, a teenager who feels all powerful or like a super hero with special  powers.

>          Severe changes in mood – either happy or silly, or very irritable, angry, agitated or aggressive.

>          Great increase in energy and the ability to go with little or no sleep for days without feeling tired.

>          The adolescent talks too much, too fast, changes topics too quickly and cannot be interrupted.

>          Inability to stay focused – the teen's attention moves constantly from one thing to the next

>          Repeated high risk-taking behaviour; such as, abusing alcohol and drugs, reckless driving or sexual promiscuity.

Some of the depressive symptoms include:

>          Persistent sadness, frequent crying, depressed mood

>          Thoughts of death or suicide

>          Loss of interest and/or enjoyment in favourite activities

>          Frequent complaints of headaches or stomach aches

>          Fatigue, poor concentration, complains of boredom

>          Major change in eating or sleeping patterns, such as oversleeping or overeating.

In reading the above manic and depressive symptoms it is understandable why it is very difficult to diagnose Bipolar Disorder in children as children/teenagers can display some or many of the above without having the Bipolar Disorder.  It is when many of the above symptoms are demonstrated and when the symptoms are frequent and extreme that the chance of the child having Bipolar Disorder is greater.

The diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in children and teens is complex and involves careful observation over an extended period of time.  A thorough evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist identify Bipolar Disorder and start treatment

Teenagers with Bipolar Disorder can be effectively treated.  Treatment for Bipolar Disorder usually includes education of the patient and the family about the illness, mood stabilizing medication and psychotherapy.  Medication helps reduce the number and severity of manic episodes and also helps to prevent depression whilst psychotherapy helps the child understand himself or herself, adapt to stresses, rebuild self-esteem and improve relationship. .

IMPORTANT:  Parents need to be ever so mindful not to dismiss extreme and disruptive behaviour in their child as a sign of manipulation or defiance.  It is agreed that children/teenagers can be manipulative and defiant; however parents need to be vigilant and not fall into the trap of believing that children/teenagers go through phases brought on by social and peer pressure influence.  The truth is that it is very difficult for some children/teenagers to cope with social and peer-presure. If rejected by their peers the child/teenager's self esteem may deteriorate to a point where depression sets in.  When this happens unless the child has a strong supportive relationship with parents and/or within the family the child begins to go on a spiral downturn which could, if left unrecognized by the parent, lead to Bipolar Disorder or other mental health disorders.  

In this day and age, parents have great opportunities of accessing information via internet, parent programs and books which provide excellent support to parents.

Mary Johnson