Bipolar Disorder in Children

August 18, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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As parents, we all see our children go through a wide range of ups and downs. Some amount of emotional variance is normal for anyone, and we should always be accepting of our children’s emotional states. In cases of bipolar disorder, these ups and downs are much more pronounced than with other children.

While it can be alarming and come with many questions, bipolar disorder is a manageable condition for children. By understanding this diagnosis as a parent and caregiver, you can give your child the love and support they need to be as happy and healthy as possible. We hope this easy-to-understand guide can give you the understanding to make positive care decisions for your family.

What is bipolar disorder in children?

Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a diagnosis affecting mental health that is characterized by extreme mood swings. People affected can go from a severe depressive state, or a “low”, to an equally severe mania, or a “high”. These episodes can occur rarely or frequently. In some cases, people may experience a relatively normal emotional state between episodes.

Bipolar disorder is more commonly diagnosed in adolescents and young adults, but it can affect children in some situations. Signs may include emotional highs and lows outside of normal outbursts for children, as well as socially inappropriate behavior.

Bipolar disorder in children can be hard to identify due to the normal emotional variability of children. Similarity and overlap with other conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can also make it difficult to pinpoint bipolar disorder.

Multiple types of bipolar disorder are characterized by the severity, degree, and length of manic and depressive episodes. These types include bipolar I disorder, characterized by a manic episode followed by depression or major depression, and bipolar II, which is focused on major depression with less severe hypomanic episodes.

What causes bipolar disorder in children?

Like so many mental health conditions, the cause of bipolar disorder is still not fully understood. The primary indicators for bipolar disorder are genetics, due to it running in families, and structural differences in the brain. There currently has been no specific identification of genes that cause bipolar disorder, or the underlying causes of structural differences in the brain, but researchers are continuing to make discoveries.

Bipolar Disorder Risk Factors

Primary risk factors for bipolar disorder in children and adults include a family history of the condition, stressful events, and trauma. This is especially true if there is a parent or sibling with a diagnosis, or if there has been very recent stress or trauma in the household.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms in Children

Because bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings between manic and depressive states, it is important to recognize the distinct symptoms and characteristics of both. Symptoms of mania and hypomania include:

  • Upbeat or optimistic mood beyond a person’s usual self
  • Increased energy levels
  • Agitated, jittery, or jumpy disposition
  • Lack of sleep
  • Increased verbal activity
  • Being easily distracted
  • Impulsiveness, poor decision-making, and risky behavior

Signs of Bipolar Disorder in Children

Signs of a depressive or major depressive state can include:

  • Low mood, including feelings of sadness, hopelessness
  • Crying and tearfulness
  • Irritability, particularly in children and teens
  • Disturbed sleep patterns including lack of sleep and/or too much sleep
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Inability to focus or complete tasks
  • Suicidal thoughts or expressions

What to Expect from Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder in children can have a major effect on the quality of life in children and their families. This condition can affect relationships, performance in school, and the ability to enjoy play and activities. Self-harm, harm to others, and suicide are the most significant and dangerous complications related to bipolar disorder.

Any signs outside of the normal childhood or adolescent emotional range should be taken seriously and receive immediate attention from a qualified mental health professional.

How to Diagnose Bipolar Disorder in a Child

Although bipolar disorder can be harder to identify in younger children, there are an array of tests and diagnostic tools available for mental health and medical professionals. These include a review of family medical history, questions about symptoms, a physical examination, psychiatric assessment, and mood charting. By comparing the symptoms to the published criteria for bipolar disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a psychiatrist can diagnose your child appropriately.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

There is a range of treatment options for bipolar disorder in children. While less research has been conducted specifically on treating young patients, many of the same methods have been shown to be effective. These include:

  • Psychological counseling and therapy
  • Medications, including antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antianxiety medication
  • Behavioral modifications and lifestyle changes
  • Education and family support

Caring for a Child with Bipolar Disorder

It can take some trial and error to find the right combination of treatments that is right for each child. By taking a proactive approach as early as possible, children and families can have the best chance of successfully managing this condition.

For many families, pediatric home health care services are a key part of an effective management plan for bipolar disorder. From providing respite care to helping with medication and nutrition, to accompanying your child to appointments, an experienced home health care professional is very often an essential member of the broader treatment team.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer one-on-one support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services in Florida, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.