While bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed in older children and teenagers, children of all ages can suffer from it. So what is bipolar disorder? It causes severe mood swings from euphoric highs to the lows of depression. As all parents know, children’s moods and behaviour are unpredictable. How they feel and behave, and energy and attention levels can change rapidly without warning.
Emotional and angry outbursts, and unpredictable behaviours are a normal part of children growing up. And these are not usually an indication of a mental health issue that needs treatment. Kids go through tough times throughout childhood. They can often feel down, behave erratically and rebel, display anger and sometimes be irritable. But if your child’s behaviour persists, causes major problems or is overly severe, it may be a sign your child is having trouble coping and of mental health issues.
When a child has bipolar disorder, they experience distinct manic and depressive episodes often in the same day. Between these episodes, they can return to being their normal selves. It is important to get the help of a professional who specialises in working with children. Early intervention and treatment can reduce serious consequences and its impact on their mental health as they grow up.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
You may ask yourself — How to tell if my child is bipolar? There is no easy answer as it is difficult to diagnose in young children. While manic and depressive episodes combined with drastic mood changes characterise bipolar disorder, these are symptoms of other mental health conditions.
Symptoms of manic behaviour in children include:
- Talking rapidly such as switching thoughts mid-sentence.
- Changes in sleep patterns such as not sleeping for several days and still not feeling tired.
- Behaving unusually silly, over-the-top happy or goofy at unusual times of the day such as at bedtime or first thing in the morning.
- Severe moodiness that rapidly cycles between mania and depression over a short period of time and often in the same day.
- Socially inappropriate behaviour.
- Taking risks that are uncharacteristic.
- Excessively irritable.
- Inability to concentrate.
- Talking about sex and acting out.
- Intense anger such as attacking others or destroying their toys.
- Unrealistic belief in their own capabilities such as believing they have superhero powers.
- Uncontrollable rage that can last for hours.
- Overly energetic.
- Short temperedness.
Children with severe depression may display the following symptoms:
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Major changes in appetite — over or undereating.
- Complain of headaches, stomach aches and other physical ailments.
- Little or no interest in playing or in the things they usually enjoy.
- Lack of concentration.
- Feeling constantly fatigued.
- Talking about death and suicide.
- Talk of feeling guilty or worthless.
- Being constantly sad.
Bipolar disorder can run in the family. So if siblings or parents have it, there is a high chance of siblings developing it. Scientists still do not understand which genes carry bipolar so there is still a chance that a child may not develop it.
It can be easy to feel helpless when you have a child with bipolar disorder. The best thing you can do is to remain patient and surround them with your love and support. It can take time for an accurate diagnosis as it is similar to other types of disorders such as Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) and ADHD.
Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
Many bipolar symptoms are similar to DMDD. Children between the age of 6 years old and up to 18 can have a diagnosis of DMDD. The symptoms of DMDD go beyond your child being in a bad mood. They can display ongoing irritability and temper outbursts that do not fit in with the normal definition of bipolar disorder.
Children with DMDD will have serious problems at school, home and with their peers. They can often find themselves suspended from school and hospitalised. And there is a high likelihood of developing a variety of other mood disorders.
It is not possible for children to have a diagnosis of both bipolar disorder and DMDD. So your child’s doctor will need to determine which one of the two more accurately fits their symptoms.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Often the manic symptoms of ADHD and bipolar disorder can be similar. And children can have both ADHD and bipolar disorder. Children may have difficulty maintaining focus, be easily distracted, overly talkative and behave inappropriately in social situations. So doctors need to determine whether your child has ADHD or if they are both occurring together. A child may have both if they behave impulsively, have severe mood swings and extreme behavioural outbursts. These are signs of mania.
A child diagnosed with ADHD who also displays risk taking behaviours, is overly confident, self-harms and does not need much sleep could also have bipolar disorder.
If you are wondering, “Is my child bipolar”, it is important not to jump to conclusions. Take them to your doctor who will probably recommend a child psychiatrist or psychologist for an accurate diagnosis.
How to help your child
There are a lot of things you can do to help your child if they have bipolar disorder. Here are some suggestions to help you.
Make sure they take their medication
It is important that your child takes their medication as the doctor prescribes. Set a timer, write a note or do whatever you need to so you remember. And if they need to take it while at school, talk to your child’s teacher about their medication. Enlist their help in ensuring your child takes it on time.
Watch for side effects
Drugs used to control bipolar disorder are strong. These include antipsychotic medications, antidepressants and mood stabilisers. And they all have side effects of some sort. Some children are more likely to have side effects such as changes in blood sugar levels, higher cholesterol and weight gain. Ask your doctor what symptoms to look out for and your child may need regular blood tests. The Food and Drug Administration warns that some antidepressants and medications for treating depression can increase the risk of suicide in children and teenagers.
Have a daily routine
Living with a child that has bipolar disorder can be very stressful. So a daily routine is beneficial. Try to ensure your child eats meals, goes to bed and has playtime at roughly the same time every day. It can help to reduce the stress on everyone in your household.
Therapy is vital for a child with bipolar disorder. It is a safe place where they can express their concerns and feel heard. For young children, play therapy helps them express their thoughts and ideas. They can explore coping strategies which can help to build their self-esteem.
Family therapy can help
A child with bipolar disorder can disrupt the family dynamics. It can strain the relationship with you partner. Their siblings may not understand what is wrong and may resent the attention their sibling gets. Family therapy is a good place for everyone to air their feelings in a non-threatening environment. It helps you to recognise the issues so you can deal with them.
Let your child’s teachers know
A child with bipolar disorder may start doing worse at school. Their marks may drop, they may no longer want to play sport or take part in activities they once enjoyed. They can be suspended from school for fighting and engage in uncharacteristically risky behaviour.
Talk to your child’s teachers. They may need to make some allowances for their condition. When they are having trouble coping, they may need less homework or to take extra breaks at school. Talk to the principal and your child’s teacher to work out an arrangement. You may even need to take your child out of school until the symptoms of bipolar stabilise.
Do not ignore threats of suicide
The thought of a child hurting themselves is every parent’s’ nightmare. But it can happen. Do not ignore it if your child starts to talk about wanting to die or displays life-threatening or self-harming behaviour. Remove anything they could use to hurt themselves with and lock up any dangerous drugs. And seek urgent medical assistance. This can also be a side effect of the medication your child is taking for bipolar disorder.
We are here to help
Bipolar disorder is difficult to deal with especially in a child. It can wear you down. It is very stressful and can disrupt your family dynamics. Even when you have support, you may feel people do not really understand or it is not enough. And it may affect your own mental health.
If you are struggling, consider reaching out. When you are not coping, contact us to find out how we aim to help get you and your child’s life back on track. But if you reach a crisis point, call us immediately. We are here to help support you through a crisis and may be able to help you quickly deal with things better.
We can work with you and your child over the phone, via Skype or in our Spas. Book in today for my Emotional Empowerment Program. I have an introductory offer for just $79 so you may start taking back control of your life. We aim to support you and your child to help cope with any mental health challenges. Our help may alleviate the effects of mental health issues and bipolar disorder. And this may help you both have less stressful lives. It may also help you look forward to a life filled with more happiness and joy.
Let me help alleviate the effects of mental health issues
My Emotional Empowerment Program has helped many children and people like you deal with all types of mental health challenges for more than a decade. We may help you and your child move through and deal with anger, depression, stress or anxiety which may be stopping you from enjoying life. My aim is to help you replace mental health symptoms with a new hope for the future filled with happiness, peace and contentment in weeks not years. Listen to what Jaimee has to say about my program after only a few sessions.