Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes persistent, overwhelming, and uncontrollable changes in moods, activities, thoughts, and behaviors. A child has a much greater chance of having bipolar disorder if there is a family history of the disorder or depression. This means that parents cannot choose whether or not their children will have bipolar disorder.
Although bipolar disorder affects at least 750,000 children in the United States 1 , it is often difficult to recognize and diagnose in children. If left untreated, the disorder puts a child at risk for school failure, drug abuse, and suicide. That is why it is important that you seek the advice of a qualified professional when trying to find out if your child has bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be mistaken for other medical/mental health conditions, and children with bipolar disorder can have other mental health needs at the same time. Other disorders that can occur at the same time as bipolar disorder include, but are not limited to, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, and drug abuse disorders. The roles that a family’s culture and language play in how causes and symptoms are perceived and then described to a mental health care provider are important, too. Misperceptions and misunderstandings can lead to delayed diagnoses, misdiagnoses, or no diagnoses—which are serious problems when a child needs help. That is why it is important that supports be in place to bridge differences in language and culture. Once bipolar disorder is properly diagnosed, treatment can begin to help children and adolescents with bipolar disorder live productive and fulfilling lives.
What Are the Signs of Bipolar Disorder?
Unlike some health problems where different people experience the same symptoms, children experience bipolar disorder differently. Often, children with the illness experience mood swings that alternate, or cycle, between periods of “highs” and “lows,” called “mania” and “depression,” with varying moods in between. These cycles can happen much more rapidly than in adults, sometimes occurring many times within a day. Mental health experts differ in their interpretation of what symptoms children experience. The following are commonly reported signs of bipolar disorder:
- Excessively elevated moods alternating with periods of depressed or irritable moods;
- Periods of high, goal-directed activity, and/or physical agitation;
- Racing thoughts and speaking very fast;
- Unusual/erratic sleep patterns and/or a decreased need for sleep;
- Difficulty settling as babies;
- Severe temper tantrums, sometimes called “rages”;
- Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities, daredevil behavior, and/or grandiose, “super-confident” thinking and behaviors;
- Impulsivity and/or distractibility;
- Inappropriate sexual activity, even at very young ages;
- Hallucinations and/or delusions;
- Suicidal thoughts and/or talks of killing self; and
- Inflexible, oppositional/defiant, and extremely irritable behavior.
TIPS FOR HEALING
The following tips for seeking forgiveness and making amends come from Daniel L. Buccino, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical supervisor at the Adult Outpatient Community Psychiatry Program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University.
- Bipolar disorder is what you have, not who you are. You still must live with it, stand up to it, accommodate yourself to it, resist it, accept it, manage it. Separating yourself from the problem in this way will allow your true character to help you decide how you want to live with your illness and its consequences. Stability begets stability.
- Apologize—genuinely, sincerely, deeply, specifically, and directly.
- Make reparations as best you can.
- Try to accept responsibility.
- Redouble your efforts to do the right and virtuous things to show that whatever behaviors you exhibited were the exception, not the rule.
- Remain humble and well-connected to treatment and find the best treatment providers you can.
- Everyone makes mistakes, but avoid repeatedly making the same mistakes.
- Strive to demonstrate good character by being responsible, reliable, trustworthy, competent, and focused.
- Recognize that rebuilding trust is a process, a staircase to climb at times, not an event.