Bipolar Disorder in Children

August 25, 2015

Having a child with mood swings is a fairly common event in many families. However, having a child with extreme emotional and behavior changes is a completely different thing.  Children that swing from extreme highs to extreme lows that impact their relationships and school experience are many times medically diagnosed with the serious brain illness referred to as Bipolar Disorder or Manic Depression.  Bipolar disorder is not the same as the normal ups and downs every kid goes through.  Let’s examine the symptoms and causes of this mental illness to better understand the people we love afflicted by it.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health defines this disorder as “a serious brain illness characterized by very happy or “up” periods called mania and by very low periods called depression.” For most people with Bipolar, the symptoms start in the mid to late teen years and lasts a lifetime.  Children who develop this disorder are said to have “early onset bipolar.” This type can be more severe than bipolar disorder in older teens and adults. Specific symptoms include:

Children and teens having a manic episode may:
Feel very happy or act silly in a way that’s unusual
Have a very short temper
Talk really fast about a lot of different things
Have trouble sleeping but not feel tired
Have trouble staying focused
Talk and think about sex more often
Do risky things.
Children and teens having a depressive episode may:
Feel very sad
Complain about pain a lot, like stomachaches and headaches
Sleep too little or too much
Feel guilty and worthless
Eat too little or too much
Have little energy and no interest in fun activities
Think about death or suicide.

Causes of Bipolar – The causes for this disorder are not completely clear and may differ from case-to-case however there are several key factors that contribute to the disorder:

  • Heredity – Children who have a family member with the disorder are more likely to get the illness.
  • Anxiety Disorders – Children who exhibit anxiety disorders are also at a higher rate of developing the illness.
  • Abnormal brain structure and functions are also a contributing factor to this disorder.

Treatment for this disorder may take the form of medication, therapy or a combination of both.  Due to the complex nature of this illness medications may take time to work and or need to be changed over the course of the illness.  Talk therapy is also found extremely useful in that it can help children understand their emotions and behaviors.