It is ordinary for children to be happy, sad, active or inactive but these do not necessarily suggest bipolar disorder. This makes diagnosing bipolar in children a hit-and-miss and a field of debate by experts who strive to determine the boundaries of diagnosing bipolar in children. For instance, when a child is high on sugar and goes into a hyper mode for a while then cools down. This does not pass as a symptom of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder, also manic-depressive disorder, is a serious brain condition that affects behavioral patterns of an individual. Children with this condition normally undergo irregular mood changes. A child will feel happy or active (mania) at one time, or sad and inactive at another (depression), hence the term manic-depressive.
What causes bipolar in children?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar in children and in general can result from, genes and hereditary factors, irregular brain functions and structure and anxiety disorders. If your family has a history of bipolar disorder it is recommended to observe your child closely for early-onset bipolar disorder.
Although there are controversies surrounding bipolar diagnosis in children, a professional will need to compare the following symptoms to determine proper treatment for your child. Parents should refrain from declaring their children bipolar or medicating them before proper evaluation by an expert.
Symptoms of manic (active) phase
During this phase, a child will display actions consisting of high energy, physical agitation and irritability. The child might also suffer from severe mood swings, lack of proper sleep, poor judgment and difficulty in concentration that will result to impatience and at times aggressiveness. Poor judgment might also, lead to involvement in activities or behaviors that may be termed risky.
Symptoms of depressive (inactive) phase
Depressive phase is characterized by loss of energy and interest in activities the child enjoyed, relentless sadness and an irritable mood, change in appetite and significant increase or decrease in body weight. The depressive state can be lethal as it is also involves inappropriate guilt, feeling worthless or suicidal feelings.
Since bipolar diagnosis does not involve a blood test or brain scan, it can be mistaken for ADHD, Posttraumatic Stress disorder, Schizophrenia or other depressive disorders.
Diagnosis of bipolar in children
Children with bipolar disorder can be treated but first the condition must be diagnosed. Unfortunately, most children go untreated as a result of misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis worsening the condition. Occasionally, it can lead them to psychiatric hospitals, the juvenile justice system, drug abuse or suicide.
Diagnosing bipolar in children differs from diagnosing bipolar in adults. This is because children with bipolar disorder do not show the same behavioral patterns as adults, therefore disclosing the behavioral changes of your child to a physician will be of great help. During bipolar diagnosis of your child, the physician will also ask for a complete history of your child’s past and present experiences before examining the child to rule out other conditions.
Once bipolar disorder is diagnosed, the physician can implement various treatments that might help in stabilizing the moods of your child. The child can be placed under a treatment plan to closely observe his symptoms and given additional treatment if required. Since there is no cure, parents can help their children lead a normal life by working closely with the physician.
More information on bipolar in children can be obtained from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). If you are or know someone who is depressed or suicidal, call or encourage them to call, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
National Institute of Mental Health- Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens
PsychCentral- Child and Adolescent Bipolar Disorder