Bipolar Disorder in Children

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One textbook definition of bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness, describes it as a major affective disorder in which an individual alternates between states of deep depression and extreme elation. However, the diagnosis is much more complicated than that definition suggests. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM IV) indicates the disorder is characterized by the occurrence of one or more manic or mixed episodes, often accompanied by depressive episodes. What this means is that a person can be depressed 99% of the time and if just one manic episode is experienced that person would qualify for the definition of Bipolar Disorder. Even this definition leaves a good deal of uncertainty as to what the disorder really is.

Putting it in common, everyday language, Bipolar Disorder is an illness that affects thoughts, feelings, perceptions and behavior which can also include how a person is feeling physically which is known clinically as psychosomatic symptoms. The cause is probably because the electrical and chemical elements in the brain are not functioning properly. It is usually found in people whose families have a history of one or more mental illnesses. It should be noted here that a mental illness is something that affects the mind and not one that’s all in the mind. However, the causes are still unclear as to the onset of bipolar disorder in children and scientists continue studying it to find out more about possible causes and risk factors.

Many children who actually have Bipolar Disorder have been diagnosed with ADHD because the DSM IV outlines criteria based on classic adult symptoms. Very little was known about how bipolar disorder affects children. When children develop this disorder it is called early onset bipolar disorder. Some of the common symptoms of Early Onset Bipolar Disorder are: separation anxiety and other anxiety disorders, rages and explosive temper tantrums lasting up to several hours, marked irritability, distractibility, hyperactivity, impulsivity, racing thoughts, low self-esteem, difficulty getting up in the morning, social anxiety and oversensitivity to emotional or environmental triggers. Other symptoms might include bedwetting, night terrors, attempts at hurting themselves, obsessional behavior, lying, suicidal thoughts, manipulative behavior and paranoia. Mood swings and extreme silliness or sadness are common among all kids. Short temper, hyperkinetic speech, inability to focus and giddiness that lasts may be signs of the manic phase. Loss of appetite, energy and interest in things and too little or too much sleep may signal the depressive phase. Look for cycling between the two.

Presently, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. Treatments include medication and therapy. Medications can affect children in different ways so the type used depends on the child. Some children may need to try different types because their symptoms are so complex but problems with medications should be reported to the administering physician ASAP. Different kinds of psychotherapy or “talk therapy: can help children change or at least manage their behavioral routines as well as help young people to get along better with family and friends. Changes in symptoms may require changes in treatment. Sticking with treatment is very important for it to be effective.

Parents should make sure that they find the right treatment for their child. They also need to be patient, encourage their child to talk while listening carefully, do fun things with the child and help their child to understand how treatment can help them get better. If a child or teen is in crisis or in danger of hurting themselves, parents should not leave them alone, call the doctor or 911 or go to the emergency room of their local hospital. The toll-free suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255. If a parent has questions about whether their child has bipolar disorder they should either talk with their family doctor or pediatrician or check the phone book for mental health professionals. In addition, it is very important for parents not to panic or jump to conclusions about the symptoms that their child might be experiencing. It’s not just one or two symptoms that will amount to a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Having a competent mental health professional make the diagnosis is the most effective way of determining whether the diagnosis is accurate. Remember that loving your child and having a strong relationship bond with him or her may be the most important treatment remedy that will lead to a successful outcome.


Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.

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