When bipolar disorder is finally diagnosed in an individual, parents will most often confess that since early childhood, as young as 5 or 6 years of age, they KNEW something was not just right. They explain how their child has had a very difficult time to settle for the night, had extreme difficulty sleeping through the night, experienced severe separation anxiety and had always had lots of challenging issues. The visits to their professional support had probably been in vain as all the above complaints could be attributed to many causes; therefore, Juvenile Bipolar Disorder is often misdiagnosed or overlooked. Pediatric bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnosed because many of the symptoms are similar to those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorders — or even just normal, childhood behavior.
What Is Juvenile Bipolar Disorder?
The Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation website states that bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness) affects close to 1 million children and adolescents in the United States at any given time. Recent studies have found that from the time of initial manifestation of symptoms, it takes an average of ten years before a diagnosis is made. This is due in part because its symptoms overlap those of other disorders, including ADHD, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Unfortunately when a misdiagnosis occurs and childhood bipolar disorder are treated with stimulants or antidepressants these medications can worsen a bipolar condition. For example problem the medications used for ADHD are stimulants and these can potentially trigger mania in children with bipolar disorder.
Different Between Adult
and Juvenile Bipolar Disorder
In adults, the mood cycles of mania and depression can last several days, weeks, months, and even for years. In children, the cycling pattern is called ultra-ultra rapid. Their moods fluctuate multiple times in a day. These children seem to have problems getting going in the morning and have more active moods in the afternoon and evening.
The Web MD site says, “Young children in a manic phase might be more irritable than adults; they may be more likely to have psychotic symptoms, hearing and seeing things that aren’t real. During a depressive episode, they might be more likely to complain of physical symptoms, like aches and pains.”
Some Red Flag Signs
of Juvenile Bipolar Disorder
- Children appear hyperactive, impulsive, fidgety, frustrated, inattentive, restless …these symptoms are much like ADHD but add to this the following symptoms.
- Children have decreased need for sleep, will sleep only 4-6 hours and are not tired the next day. Kids who are bipolar tend to experience a range of sleep disturbances that include night terrors and nightmares – often with images of gore and mutilation and themes of bodily threat and parental abandonment – sleep-walking, teeth-grinding, and bed-wetting.
- Children have grandiose behaviors ~an inflated self-esteem or think they have special powers, like Superman. Children act as if rules were not made for them and take unbelievable, dangerous risks.
- Children will suffer high levels of frustration. The word “NO” will make them throw a temper tantrum that lasts a long time. These tantrums may even be accompanied with aggression. All these negative behaviors may never be shown outside the home. Or for some children, it is the exact opposite where parents see their good sides and the school sees their violent side.
- Children have flight of ideas and jump from topic to topic becoming unusually talkative and talk faster than usual.
- Children may be unreasonably silly, giddy or happy.
- Children have sudden shifts in mood making them bored, withdrawn, wishing they were never born. And yes, children can even be suicidal.
- Children may be bossy to their peers and even to adults. Some children can be insolent but other children are well-liked and want to make friends. Some will have difficulty making transitions and become argumentative.
- Children develop social phobia and want to be alone. They loose interest or pleasure in activities they normally enjoyed. They feel tired, worthless and guilty about unreasonable things.
- Some children even have hallucinations, they see insects or snakes, hear voices, or hear satanic figures. Some have delusions (irrational fears or beliefs).
If any of these RED FLAGS make you think your child has bipolar disorder DO NOT WAIT. Seek professional help immediately and do not stop until the right care has been found for your child. The first line of treatment is usually to stabilize the child’s mood and to treat sleep disturbances and psychotic symptoms if present.
The following sites are a wealth of information for parents…use them, arm yourself with knowledge to advocate for your child. When my child was struggling through undiagnosed bipolar disorder, none of this was available.
Links and Resources
- Mental Health America (MHA)