Bipolar Disorder, also known as “manic depression” was once thought not to affect children. It was formerly considered a complex mental illness with only an adult on-set. This was probably because the symptoms of bipolar disorder closely mimic or can actually concur with other child and teenage behavior problems such as ADHD and Conduct Disorder.
Today current medical research clearly indicates that bipolar disorder does indeed occur in young people. In fact, even those who seemed to have presented with manic depression later in life, probably exhibited signs early on, which went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
How Do I Recognize a Bipolar Child?
Every child, indeed every person experiences mood swings. In the bipolar child, however, these episodes are extreme and interfere with his or her ability to function in school or other aspects of everyday life. A Bipolar Child will exhibit any or all of the following:
- Impulsive Behaviors
- Deep Depression or Sadness
- Separation Anxiety
- Deliberate Defiance of Authority
- Sleep Disorders
- Nightmares or Night Terrors
- Accelerated Speech Patterns
- Inappropriate Sexual Behaviors (in older children and teens)
If your child is exhibiting these behaviors or patterns, he or she may be a bipolar child, especially if there is a history of mood disorders in your family. While science has yet to determine a specific gene for Bipolarism, manic depression is known to run in families. Diagnosing a bipolar child can be difficult, in fact, it is only in recent years that conventional medical wisdom concluded that manic depression does indeed manifest in children.
Experts suggest you can help in making a proper diagnosis by keeping a regular log of your child’s behaviors and mood swings. Record any behaviors that fit those described above, and keep a record of sleep patterns. If you do have reason to suspect that you are the parent of a Bipolar Child, please seek the help of a qualified professional, with early and proper intervention a bipolar child can go on to lead a useful, happy and productive life.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated in Children and Teens?
The first thing you need to understand as a parent of a child who is bipolar is that you have not done anything wrong. Having a bipolar child does not represent any failure as a parent on your part — quite the opposite in fact. An accurate diagnosis of manic depression means that your child has a mental illness, a disease — and like any disease, it can be treated.
A lot has been said recently about the practice of psychiatry and the use and potential side effects of anti-depressant drugs and other medications to treat mental illness, especially in children. However, while no one, particularly a young person, likes facing the prospects of taking a lifelong medication, the fact of the matter is, the only clinically proven method of bipolar control involves the use of anti-depressive and mood stabilizing medications.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) “Most people with bipolar disorder—even those with the most severe forms—can achieve substantial stabilization of their mood swings and related symptoms with proper treatment. A strategy that combines medication and psychosocial treatment is optimal for managing the disorder over time.”
And that includes young people. The NIMH website goes on to say “As an addition to medication, treatment plans which include specific forms of “talk therapy” have proven to be instrumental in providing education and support to children with manic depression and their families.”
Talk Therapy and Counseling
Conventional medical practice sees bipolar disorder in children as a neurological condition. Yet, it is also generally accepted wisdom that it cannot, indeed should not, be treated by drugs alone. Counseling needs to be a part of an overall treatment plan.
In fact most professionals agree that one cannot work without the other, and the best treatments for a child, teen, or anyone with bipolar disorder, involves the use of both medication and talk therapy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Counseling will usually involve the following types of therapies:
- Behavioral modification therapy, which helps children afflicted by bipolar disorder recognize and change unacceptable behaviors and thought patterns associated with their condition.
- Psychosocial-education, which involves educating kids and their families about the disorder and treatments, so they may learn to understand the signs of trouble early and seek appropriate treatment before a major episode occurs.
- Interpersonal and life rhythm therapy is used to help children and teens with manic depression strengthen their one-on-one relationships and to structure their daily tasks, which can help prevent manic episodes.
Bipolar counseling will invariably also include family therapy sessions and support groups for yourself and siblings that will help your entire family cope with the challenges of sharing your home with a child or teen suffering with Manic Depression.
Keep in mind that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder for your child is not the end, but a beginning. After all, now you finally have a reason for all that chaotic behavior that has been tearing your family apart. And never forget you do not have to face this on your own. Here are some useful links for bipolar information:
https://www.dbsalliance.org/ – Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
https://www.nami.org/ – National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
https://www.aacap.org/ – American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
http://www.amhca.org/ – American Mental Health Counselors Association
These are just a few of the dozens of bipolar resources available. You can always also turn to your local Department Of Children and Families as an excellent starting point for bipolar disorder resources, and of course you child’s physician or healthcare provider.