Bipolar Disorder In Children - Everything You Need To Know

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Are you noticing frequent mood swings in your child of late? Do you find it a little surprising when you see that most of these extreme emotional reactions do not have an apparent trigger? If you are worried about your child’s sudden changes in moods and behavior, maybe it is time to read up a bit on mental health issues in children. One such condition that children suffer from is bipolar disorder. If you are not aware of bipolar disorder in children, or if you want to know more about it and see how you can help your child, go ahead and give this post a read.

What Is Bipolar Disorder In Children?

The other name for Bipolar disorder is the manic-depressive illness. In most cases, bipolar disorder is regarded as a serious mental health issue. Children who experience bipolar disorder will often go through extreme changes in mood. If your child is suffering from bipolar disorder, he may feel very happy suddenly, without any obvious reason, and you may notice that your child is way more active than normal. The state of elation is the mania condition of the manic-depressive disorder. On the other hand, your child may suddenly grow quiet and inactive. The state of dullness is the depressive condition of the manic depressive disorder. [1]

Until about the 1990s, it was not acknowledged that children experience bipolar disorder, and no form of treatment or diagnosis was available for them. However, recent theories indicate that bipolar disorder can affect children too.

As a parent, you may sometimes feel that bipolar disorder simply refers to the normal ups and downs that a child experiences in the growing up years. In the case of bipolar disorder, even though the main symptom may be mood swings, the intensity of the same is much higher than normal. Also, it can adversely affect your child’s overall development, academic performance, and social behavior. In severe cases of bipolar disorder, a child can also end up harming himself.

[ Read: Personality Disorders In Children ]

What Are The Different Types Of Bipolar Disorder?

At the moment, most doctors usually diagnose bipolar disorder as per the guidelines specified in the journal Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM. As per DSM, there are four types of childhood bipolar disorder that include the following: [2]

1. Bipolar I Disorder:

In bipolar I disorder, the manic or mixed episodes in your child will usually last for at least a minimum of seven days. In some cases, the manic symptoms may be so severe that your child could require immediate hospitalization. Your child will also experience severe depressive symptoms that will last for at least two weeks. Both the cases, of manic and depressive symptoms, will be extremely different from your child’s normal behavior.

2. Bipolar II Disorder:

In bipolar II disorder, the depressive episodes will be more common. However, depression will not be a constant state, and your child may go in and out of the mode. Also, there will not be any severe manic episodes or mixed episodes.

3. Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NO S):

In bipolar disorder not otherwise specified, your child will experience the symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not match the symptoms of bipolar I or II disorder. The symptoms will be mild and may not last for too long. Therefore, it will be difficult for you to notice it initially. The symptoms, however, will not be in accordance to how your child usually behaves, so it will still mean that your child has bipolar disorder.

4. Cyclothymic Disorder Or Cyclothymia:

Cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia is a very mild form of bipolar disorder in children. In most cases, those who have this particular type of bipolar disorder shift between episodes of hypomania mixed with traces of depression. The condition can last for at least one year, with your child having mixed feelings for the entire duration, but in a very mild and controlled form. The symptoms will be milder than any other form of bipolar disorder.

[ Read: Types Of Emotional Disorders In Children ]

Who Is At Risk Of Developing Bipolar Disorder?

Anyone, including a child, can suffer from bipolar disorder, as there is no specific age for the same. In most cases, people develop bipolar disorder in their late teens or early adult years, and the condition lasts forever.

Is Bipolar Disorder In Children Different From That In Adults?

The term early onset bipolar disorder refers to the condition in children. The early onset form of bipolar disorder is more dangerous than the regular form of the condition in adults. Also, it is possible that a child suffering from bipolar disorder will have more episodes of mood swings, and that he will also find it more difficult to handle them as compared to adults.

[ Read: Tips For Dealing With Moody Children ]

What Causes Bipolar Disorder In Children?

Research is yet to ascertain the cause of the bipolar disorder in childhood. However, there are various factors that could trigger the same including the following:

  1. Genetic Factor: A child is likely to suffer from the illness if he has a family history of the same. A child who has a parent or a sibling suffering from bipolar disorder is prone to the same as compared to other children.
  1. Abnormality In The Structure And Functioning Of The Brain
  1. Anxiety Disorder: Sometimes, a child who is suffering from an anxiety disorder is at a higher risk of suffering from bipolar disorder too, as compared to others (3).

[ Read: Ways To Deal With Anxiety Disorders In Kids ]

What Are The Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder In Children?

‘Mood episodes’ refer to the mood changes that happen due to bipolar disorder. Your child could have a manic episode, a depressive episode, or even a mixed episode. In the case of children, the frequency of mixed episodes will be higher than just the manic or depressive episode, as compared to adults.

In some cases, the mood episodes of bipolar disorder in your child can last for as long as a week or two. During a mood episode, the symptoms will usually last every single day of the duration and for almost the entire day.

Your child will suffer from intense mood swings. He will experience strong feelings and extreme fluctuations in his behavior and energy levels (4).

If your child has a manic episode, here are the common symptoms you need to watch out for:

  • Your child may suddenly act and feel too happy, sometimes to the extent of behaving in a very silly way.
  • Simple conversations or incidents may suddenly make your child’s temper flare.
  • Your child may suddenly start talking very fast about many different things, all at once.
  • During bedtime, your child may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, but will not necessarily feel tired.
  • Your child will face difficulty in concentrating.
  • In a very rare instance that may not be appropriate for your child’s age, you may hear him suddenly develop a curiosity about sex. Your child may start talking about things related to sex, and you may notice that he spends a lot of time even thinking about the topic.
  • Your child could suddenly display signs of risky behavior.

[ Read: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder In Children ]

If your child has a depressive episode, here are the common symptoms you need to watch out for:

  • Your child may suddenly feel very sad and out of sorts, without any obvious reason, and despite your attempts at trying to make him feel better and happy.
  • There may be frequent instances where your child complains of pain, often a stomach ache or a headache.
  • Your child may suddenly start sleeping too much, even though he may not feel tired. There may even be instances where your child wants to spend the whole day in bed, for days on end. On the other hand, your child could also start losing sleep all of a sudden and may not be able to sleep for nights together.
  • Your child can start feeling too guilty for things that may not be his fault. He may also experience a sense of being worthless, and may look down upon himself.
  • You will notice a drastic change in his appetite. Your child may suddenly want to eat a lot and may feel hungry all the time. On the other hand, your child may suddenly not want to eat at all for days on end.
  • Your child may be extremely low on energy and may not be able to get up and do his everyday chores. Also, your child may lose all interest in his favorite activities. He may avoid interacting with friends, attending events or meeting anyone.
  • He may start talking about death and suicide.

[ Read: Symptoms Of ADD In Children ]

What Are The Health Risks Associated With Bipolar Disorder?

Children with bipolar disorder are  likely to suffer from the following health, mental or social issues:

  • Substance Abuse: A child suffering from bipolar disorder is likely to indulge in substance abuse. He may resort to experimenting with alcohol or drugs.
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children who have bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of being hyperactive and facing a lot of trouble in staying focused.
  • Anxiety Disorders Including Separation Anxiety: Children suffering from bipolar disorder are likely to suffer from anxiety disorders too.
  • Mental Illnesses Such As Depression: A child who has bipolar disorder may suffer from other mental issues like depression and ADHD. The symptoms will be more severe than those in the manic-depressive episodes associated with bipolar disorder.

[ Read: Common Mental Illness In Children ]

How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed In A Child?

If you notice that your child is displaying the symptoms related to bipolar disorder, seek an appointment with a doctor at the earliest. The doctor may take the following steps diagnosing bipolar disorder in children:

  • The doctor will first examine your child. He may talk to him and ask various questions to gain insight into your child’s mood and behavior.
  • He may also ask you various questions related to your child’s sleep patterns, eating habits, general behavior and so on.
  • He will also try to assess your child’s energy levels and mood swings.
  • The doctor may require details of your family’s medical history. He may also ask questions about whether there is someone in the family who has a drinking problem or an addiction to a substance. Or if any family member is suffering from any mental issue.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated In A Child?

At the moment, there is still no permanent or definite cure for bipolar disorder. Doctors use the same methods to treat children suffering from bipolar disorder as the ones they use for adults. In some cases, timely intervention and treatment can help to contain the symptoms. Also, the best way to treat bipolar disorder is to go for a prolonged treatment as your doctor suggests, instead of going for a stop-gap one. Here are some of the methods your doctor may use in treatment for bipolar disorder in children: (5)

1. Medication:

There are different types of medication that can help treating bipolar disorder symptoms in children. Different children respond differently to medication. You need to follow the doctor’s prescription strictly regarding the drugs and the dosages. You need to discuss the potential side effects of the same. Remember, an irregular medication can aggravate the condition and make the symptoms worse.

2. Therapy:

There are various types of psychotherapies or ‘talk’ therapies, which can help your child deal with bipolar disorder. Enrolling for such sessions can help your child control his mood swings and improve his behavior. The doctor may suggest a family therapy approach for safeguarding your child against feelings of isolation and stigma.

How Can You Help Your Child As A Parent?

If your child is suffering from bipolar disorder, it can be a trying time for you as a parent. Here are a few tips that can help you help your child:

  • Make sure that you give due importance to your child’s symptoms and get him the necessary medical help at the right time.
  • Even if you are not sure whether or not your child has bipolar disorder, speak to your doctor about anything unusual you notice in his behavior.
  • Always be patient with your child, even though it can be difficult and trying at times. If you lose your cool, it can make your child’s symptoms worse and can make it more difficult for you to handle him.
  • Try to keep your communication channel open with your child. Encourage your child to talk to you and to express his feelings. He may be feeling low or extremely excited or happy about something. Ask him what he is feeling and why.
  • Understand that the mood episodes that your child goes through are not in his control, so do not scold or reprimand him for it. Gently ask your child what caused the extreme reaction and what he feels about it.
  • Make ways for your child to have fun in everyday things, especially when he is going through his depressive phase. Sometimes, it is important to plan lots of fun events for your child on a regular basis. It will help him beat the blues that accompany the condition.
  • Talk to your child about the importance of treatment and how it will help him.

Bipolar disorder in your child is not something that should cause you embarrassment. It is a condition that could happen to anyone, so be understanding about it and assure your child of your unconditional love and support.

Did your child suffer from bipolar disorder? What treatment did the doctor advise? What steps did you take to help your child overcome the condition? Please share your story here to inspire other moms in a similar situation.

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