Bipolar disorder is defined as an enduring mental health condition affecting an individual’s mood, behavior, and energy. It is a complex and often misunderstood disorder that can cause significant impairment in functioning if not treated properly. Bipolar disorder has become increasingly common in children and adolescents. It can affect a child’s ability to cope with everyday life, build and maintain relationships, or engage in healthy activity. Early identification of the signs of bipolar disorder can help parents get treatment for their child promptly, supporting their overall well-being and reducing long-term consequences.
This guide will provide information about:
- Bipolar disorder diagnoses in children and adolescents.
- Possible warning signs that may indicate bipolar disorder.
- Potential triggers of a manic episode.
- Impact on daily life activities.
- Family members’ roles in helping a child cope with the disorder.
- Available treatments options for bipolar symptoms or other related disorders.
- Medications used to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder in children and young adults.
- Recommended lifestyle changes.
- Additional resources available to families affected by bipolar disorder.
- Steps one should take if they believe their child may be experiencing some form of mental illness.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can affect children and adults alike. When it comes to children, there are certain symptoms that can help you recognize if they have this condition. It is important that you keep an eye out as early recognition and intervention can help in managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder more effectively.
Let’s take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of this condition in children:
Manic episodes are a key feature of bipolar disorder and can significantly affect a person’s behavior. During the episode, individuals may experience extremely elevated moods and energy levels, as well as other symptoms that can interfere with their day-to-day functioning. Common manic symptoms include:
- Decreased need for sleep, or being able to go without sleep
- Risky or impulsive behavior
- Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- Rapidly changing ideas and conversations
- Distractibility and difficulty focusing on tasks
- Excessive talking or talking very quickly
- Engaging in pleasurable activities that have the potential for dangerous consequences (e.g., reckless driving, excessive spending).
Depressive episodes are a common symptom seen in individuals with bipolar disorder. During depressive episodes, individuals will experience extreme sadness and listlessness; leading them to feel inadequate and worthless. This feeling of worthlessness can increase their risk of thoughts and behaviors related to self-harm.
Other symptoms of a depressive episode may include:
- Fatigue and low energy levels
- Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
- Social withdrawal
- Difficulty performing daily tasks
- Feeling like life is not worth living
- Poor concentration and memory
- Changes in appetite (eating too much or too little)
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
It is important to remember that each person’s experience with bipolar disorder will be different—some may experience depressive episodes more often than manic ones or vice versa; or some may experience very short highs/lows lasting just an hour whereas others may cycle between moods for weeks at a time. Because of this variety in severity it can be difficult to spot these signs until mental health professionals intervene. If you suspect your child may have bipolar disorder it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible.
Mixed episodes are a combination of both depressive and manic behaviors that occur at the same time. These episodes can be challenging to identify as they may be difficult to recognize as either a state of depression or mania. The presence of two opposite moods at the same time may influence the individual’s ability to carry out daily activities, resulting in reduced functioning and a disruption in the normal routine.
Symptoms of mixed episodes include:
- Irritability or hostility
- Anxiousness or agitation
- Loss of self-esteem or sense of worthlessness
- Racing thoughts and speech
- Heightened energy levels with increased focus on specific tasks
- Restlessness, insomnia, and exhaustion
- Problems with decision making and problem solving
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation
When it comes to diagnosing bipolar disorder in children, it’s important to be aware of the warning signs and understand the complexities of the disorder. Because of a child’s developing brain, diagnosing bipolar disorder can be difficult, and it is essential to consult a qualified mental health professional for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
In this section, we’ll discuss the process of diagnosis, from recognizing the symptoms to making the determination:
- Recognizing the symptoms of bipolar disorder in children.
- Conducting a thorough evaluation to rule out other conditions.
- Making a final diagnosis and determining the best course of treatment.
Physical and Mental Health Exams
When seeking a diagnosis for a child, it is important to talk to your pediatrician or family doctor first. A physical exam and some basic blood work should be done to rule out any underlying medical issues that may be causing the symptoms your child is exhibiting. Your doctor may also refer you for further evaluation if necessary.
Mental health professionals are best suited to diagnose bipolar disorder in children. If your doctor suspects that your child may have bipolar disorder, they will likely refer you and your child to a mental health professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders in children.
This professional can perform an assessment based on criteria laid out by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). It is important that their assessment consider any other possible diagnoses or contributing factors before making a definitive diagnosis. These professionals typically look at:
- medical history
- family history
- living situation
- recent stressful events in the child’s life
- behavior patterns at home or school
- presence or absence of depression or anxiety symptoms
- how recent any major lifestyle changes have been for the family.
This can help determine if the behavior is due to environmental factors such as stress from life transitions like divorce or new schools, versus being related to more serious conditions like bipolar disorder.
In diagnosing bipolar disorder, the first step for a healthcare provider is typically gathering detailed information from the patient and their family. This can involve an extensive family history, mental health assessments, psychological evaluations, and questionnaires. If a healthcare provider suspects bipolar disorder, other illnesses must first be ruled out. To do this, tests such as lab tests or imaging scans may be conducted to rule out underlying medical conditions or physical illnesses that may be causing symptoms similar to bipolar disorder.
Lab tests typically used to diagnose bipolar disorder include:
- A basic metabolic panel to test electrolyte levels and liver function;
- A complete blood count (CBC) or red blood cell counts;
- Thyroid function tests;
- Certain brain-imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans.
These tests help the healthcare provider diagnose any underlying medical issues that may contribute to symptoms related to bipolar disorder. Additional testing might also include urine drug screens to determine if substance use is playing a role in the diagnosis. Neuropsychological testing might also be conducted for further evaluation of cognitive functioning and intellectual capacity.
During interviews for a bipolar disorder diagnosis, your child’s doctor will ask about moods, behavior, and thoughts. Your child’s doctor may ask questions not only to your child but also to you or other adults in the family. This process helps the doctor figure out if there is a pattern to the behavior and how long it has been going on.
It’s important to be as accurate and specific as possible when describing symptoms with dates and details. The doctor may have some of these common questions:
- How often does your child display explosive anger?
- Do they show signs of joy for extended periods of time?
- Do their mood swings seem random?
- Can you describe their thought processes during episodes of depression or mania?
- What kind of activities does your child use to cope with difficult emotions such as stress or anxiety?
- Has your child experienced any unusual changes in personality, outlook, or behavior over time?
Answering these kinds of questions can help the doctor provide an accurate diagnosis. Additionally, the doctor will inquire about any family history of mental health issues including addiction or substance use that could play a role in influencing mental health diagnoses. An assessment will also potentially include a physical examination to rule out certain medical conditions that can lead to similar symptoms. Ultimately, completing an extensive interview is an essential part of finding a correct diagnosis for bipolar disorder.
Treating bipolar disorder in children and adolescents is an important matter that requires a specialized approach by trained professionals. Treatment will involve coordinating a team of psychiatrists, therapists, and other healthcare professionals who can help manage and treat the disorder.
The goal of treatment is to help the child learn to cope with their emotions and to manage their symptoms. Treatment plans may include:
When it comes to treating children and adolescents with bipolar disorder, medication is often the most effective way to address their symptoms. Medications that can be used in children and teens with bipolar disorder, include:
- Antidepressants—including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants. These drugs help reduce depressive symptoms but may also increase manic and irritable symptoms.
- Mood stabilizers—anticonvulsants including divalproex sodium, carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and aripiprazole. These medications help treat the mood swings associated with bipolar disorder by stabilizing the brain chemistry.
- Atypical antipsychotics—such as risperidone, olanzapine, paliperidone, ziprasidone which help treat the symptom of irritability or aggression caused by mania or depression episodes.
- Psychotherapy—psychotherapy is another important part of treatment for bipolar disorder in children and adolescents. It helps them learn how to recognize signs of mania or depression episodes and teaches healthy coping strategies for better managing their illness in everyday life situations.
Therapy is generally recommended as the first form of treatment for individuals diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This is because therapy gives individuals an opportunity to explore their thoughts, beliefs, and behavior that may have contributed to the emergence of symptoms. It also provides a safe, supportive environment for them to express and analyze their feelings.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often used to help recognize and change thought patterns that can lead to bipolar distress. CBT helps individuals learn skills that can allow them to better manage the things that used to trigger episodes. By learning routes for emotional regulation, it encourages individual’s feelings without relying on negative behaviors or patterns in order to cope with emotions.
Family Therapy is often used in conjunction with CBT in order to ensure that everybody involved understands the person living with Bipolar Disorder and knows how to help them manage their disorder safely outside of therapy sessions or other mental health services. Family Therapy involves understanding how associated family members think and feel about each other, in addition how behaviors might interact within the family dynamic. This process helps family members identify any obstacles they may have when it comes to positively helping people struggling with Bipolar Disorder manage their emotions and overall mental health effectively on a long-term basis.
One of the key aspects of treating bipolar disorder in children is making lifestyle changes to help manage the symptoms. It’s important for family members to develop healthy ways to cope with the stress that comes with a bipolar diagnosis and get the support they need.
It’s important to teach children healthy coping skills they can use when they feel themselves being pulled into an extreme mood state. This could include positive self-talk, communication strategies, mindfulness techniques, or physical activities like exercise and yoga. It may also be beneficial for them to have an understanding of their diagnosis so they can better identify manic or depressive episodes when they arise and communicate their needs more effectively.
Additionally, it can be helpful for families to establish a routine and follow it as closely as possible. Regular sleep patterns are especially important since individuals with bipolar disorder are very sensitive to disrupted or inadequate sleep cycles. Keeping mealtimes consistent and setting structure through family meetings or regular check-ins can also help keep things running smoothly in the home environment.
Finally, encouraging positive social activities outside of the triggers that might lead to a manic episode is an essential strategy in managing bipolar disorder in children.
It is important to seek professional psychiatric help for your child if you are concerned about bipolar disorder. Through interviews and mental health assessments, a trained and qualified specialist will help you reach a diagnosis. Treatment options may include psychotherapy, medications, and lifestyle changes depending on the individual’s needs.
It is important to remember that bipolar disorder is complex, and while the signs may be confusing or hard to spot in young children, it can be manageable. No two children or cases of bipolar disorder will look exactly alike; early diagnosis and treatment can help to lessen the severity of symptoms that arise. With the right support and care, children can learn how to manage their condition as they grow up into adulthood.