Introduction to Signs Of Bipolar Disorder In Children
Bi-polar disorder is a mental health condition that is often associated with adults, but in reality, symptoms can arise in childhood too. Characterized by dramatic shifts between high and low moods, bi-polar disorder used to be called depression” which hints at how severe the mood swings can be.
While we often only hear about the extremely depressed states, children with bi-polar disorder spend more time in between these two poles in a relatively normal mood. Their moods are just very changeable day-to-day. This makes spotting the signs trickier in kids than in adults. However, paying attention to the subtle clues can help parents and doctors identify it early and start treatment sooner.
Understanding Pediatric Bi-polar Disorder
Most people develop bi-polar disorder around age 25, but initial symptoms can emerge as early as preschool. When the condition first appears before age 18, it’s considered a pediatric or juvenile bi-polar disorder. It’s not as common as adult bi-polar, affecting about 1-2% of youth.
One thing that makes diagnosing it difficult is that the mood episodes tend to look different in children than in adults. Kids’ moods shift very rapidly, sometimes many times a day. Mania often shows up as severe irritability rather than euphoria. Depression frequently comes across as anger and tantrums instead of sadness. This has led some doctors to think pediatric bi-polar may be a distinct illness from the adult version.
Top Signs and Symptoms to Look For
Since it doesn’t always resemble classic depression, spotting bipolar disorder in children takes paying attention to some more subtle signs. Here are some of the most telling signals:
- Extreme mood swings that happen very rapidly or feel unprompted
- Periods of very high energy and impulsiveness
- Aggressive outbursts, rage, or violence unrelated to disciplinary events
- Risky behaviors like reckless driving, sexual promiscuity, drug use
- Loss of interest in activities the child used to enjoy
- Withdrawing from friends and family suddenly
- Severe sleep disturbances like insomnia or sleeping all-day
- Decline in academic performance and concentration
- Self-harming behaviors
- Physical complaints like headaches and stomachaches
- A close family member with bi polar disorder
Certainly, all kids can demonstrate some moody, defiant, or unpredictable behavior at times. What tips the scale for bi polar disorder is when these behaviors become very frequent and pronounced or emerge in clusters. Sudden changes are most concerning, as are symptoms that continually worsen over time without relief.
Getting an Accurate Diagnosis
Since bi-polar disorder shares many similarities with other mental health conditions like depression, ADHD, and oppositional defiant disorder, getting an accurate diagnosis can take some time. Doctors need input from multiple sources to piece together the full picture. They will ask for observations from parents and teachers, conduct a full psychiatric evaluation, and likely order medical testing too. Tracking the child’s moods and behaviors at home is tremendously helpful.
Though it’s a complex process requiring some patience, getting it right is extremely important so the child gets appropriate treatment. If a diagnosis is still pending but symptoms are apparent, parents shouldn’t wait to ask the school about possible learning accommodations or therapy options that might help. Acting early makes a big difference.
Treatment Options Bring Hope
While pediatric bi-polar is challenging, the right treatment helps children manage symptoms successfully. A combination of medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments, and school accommodations is usually most effective. The goals are stabilizing mood swings, relieving symptoms, and giving kids the skills to thrive at home and school.
Certain medications can help regulate moods, but they require close supervision by a doctor since not all are approved for children. Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and peer support groups equip kids with valuable coping skills too. Getting enough sleep, proper nutrition, daily structure, and exercise are also beneficial. At school, accommodations like modified attendance, extended assignment deadlines, quiet rooms, and counseling aid academic success.
With the illness identified early and the right treatment plan, many kids with bi-polar disorder can regulate their moods, focus at school, and develop healthy relationships. While it may require some lifestyle adjustments for families, there is every reason to be hopeful.
Supporting a Child through Treatment
In addition to formal treatment, the support kids receive at home makes a major difference. The more parents can learn about pediatric bi-polar and communicate openly with their children, the better. Providing empathy without judgment creates trust. Establishing structure through consistent daily routines helps regulate mood too. Leading by example with your own healthy habits matters. And taking time for self-care prevents caregiver burnout.
Early intervention combined with compassionate support gives children with bi-polar disorder the best chance of managing symptoms successfully and building fulfilling lives. There will always be challenges, but the future remains bright.