Bipolar Disorder - What Are The Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatments?
Childhood bipolar disorder, also referred to as childhood manic depression, is a brain condition that produces mood swings and exaggerated forms of behavior in children who are affected. It is rare, but when it does occur, it may vary in severity from patient to patient, or affect the same patient to different degrees throughout his or her lifetime. Typically, bipolar children swing from periods of elation and hyperactivity (this is called "mania") to extreme lows consistent with childhood depression. These swings may occur a few times a year or several times a day, depending on the patient. Child development can be negatively impacted by bipolar disorder, because bipolar kids often have trouble maintaining social relationships and behaving well at school. In extreme cases, this childhood mood disorder can lead children or adolescents to attempt suicide.
In the United States, psychiatrists have treated childhood personality disorders which were bipolar-related in children as young as just 6 years old. Because the behavioral symptoms of this disorder are very similar to typical naughty behavior in children, or even to the behavior of kids suffering from less severe problems such as childhood ADHD, it can be difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder in kids. However, the symptoms of bipolar are generally much more severe than those of ADHD or bad behavior, and may include:
Elation - laughing hysterically and being super excited for no particular reason at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places (such as the classroom, when the teacher has asked for quiet.)
Grandiose actions or statements - bipolar kids may behave arrogantly as if the rules that apply to everybody else are not relevant to them. They may believe that they are more intelligent than everyone around them, including their teachers. They may also claim to have superhuman powers or abilities.
Racing thoughts - when speaking to other people, bipolar kids may talk constantly and jump from one idea to the next without any clear connection between any two subjects. It may seem as if their thoughts and ideas are simply overwhelming them.
Reduced need for sleep - bipolar kids may not need to sleep the way other kids do. Lots of children like to stay up late if their parents will let them, but they'll be visibly tired the next day. Bipolar kids stay up late doing all sorts of seemingly non-important tasks, and show no signs of tiredness the next day whatsoever.
Unusual sexual behavior - bipolar kids may display hyper sexualized behavior, such as flirting with grownups or using sexual language, which is of course very disturbing and uncomfortable for the adults around them. Hyper sexuality related to bipolar disorder is by no means a definite indication that a child has been sexually abused.
Childhood Bipolar Disorder Treatment
The type of treatment given to a bipolar child will depend on the type of symptoms he displays and the severity of his condition. Psychotherapy, behavioral techniques and medications such as anti-psychotic drugs or anti-depressants may be required.
Many parents of young bipolar children are uncomfortable about giving their kids medications, because there are no FDA-approved medicines for bipolar kids under the age of 10. This does not necessarily mean that the medications are dangerous, but that they have to be used carefully, and the child has to be constantly observed for any signs of side effects. It may not always be necessary to treat a bipolar child using drugs (at least not all of the time), but if he goes through periods of extreme depression, or violent behavior towards himself or others, medication may be the only option.
Childhood schizophrenia is another very rare but upsetting childhood mental health disorder. Schizophrenic children may exhibit some of the unpredictable and manic behaviors associated with childhood borderline personality disorders like bipolar, but are also troubled by auditory and visual hallucinations, including "voices" which they hear in their minds. Schizophrenia can affect children as young as 6 or 7 years of age but is more common in young adults. The condition is a real challenge for the children themselves, their families and the medics who treat them, because violent outbursts and bouts of depression are common. Treatment usually takes the form of antipsychotic medications and psychotherapy. Parents may be unable to manage their child's intense psychotic episodes at home, therefore frequent hospitalizations may be required.