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How to Recognize Childhood Bipolar

I could talk for hours about Childhood Bipolar Disorder. It's painful to everyone involved. It's scary. It's sad. It's damaging to the whole family.

It can be controlled and you can learn to live with it.

Bipolar was not diagnosed in children until recently because children don't present with the same symptoms as adults. Children cycle rapidly and if they cycled every two days that would be considered rapid....but children can cycle every 5 minutes! Children can have what is called 'mixed states' meaning that they can be manic and depressed at the same time! Come on, how can you see this?

Children when manic can show serious irritability. When children are depressed they can show serious irritability.

This irritability can manifest as rages. Rages that go on for more than 30 minutes. Rages that involve destroying their own belongings, hurting their parents and/or siblings, taking reckless chances such as running away (really running away...not just sitting at the corner with their teddy bear), climbing on the roof, beating on a sliding glass door.

How do you know when one is manic or depressed if they can both result in irritability? Well, we were quick to say we had never seen our daughter act depressed (and it's rare to see in her). And it really didn't matter if she was manic or depressed, she was irritable to the point of having huge, dangerous rages.

Once you find a knowledgeable professional and they get a good history from you, you begin to see that the symptoms have been there for the child's entire life.

For us it was:

  • Insatiable appetite since infancy
  • Hurting others to the point of leaving bruises or drawing blood, even from a very young age (14 months for my daughter)
  • Beginning the "terrible two's" before 2 years old, progressing to the "horrible threes", and on to the "what could be wrong fours". In other words, the expected tantrums from a 2 year old increase and get worse as the child gets older.....they don't out grow it.
  • Craving carbohydrates and sweets
  • Sleep problems
  • Rapid changes in mood....happy to angry in minutes
  • Rages set off by parents saying "No". It doesn't matter what the no is to....a cookie or a sleep over, the rage will ensue just the same.

Manic Symptoms

  • Pressured Speech
  • Constant Movement
  • Irritability
  • Lots of projects going
  • Obsession with one or more project
  • Inability to sleep
  • Rages
  • Grandiosity or inflated sense of self
  • Short attention span
  • Racing ideas
  • Risk-taking behavior--trying things that are dangerous

Depression Symptoms

  • Sleeping too much
  • Irritablity
  • Lack of interest in things normally considered fun or interesting
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Frequent complaints of physcial problems
  • Major changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Low energy, boredom

What Should You Do If You Suspect Bipolar Disorder in Your Child?

What Therapists/Psychiatrists look for when assessing someone for bipolar disorder.


How we dealt with medication.

Girl at Desk graphic courtesy of www.sarahspage  


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Last updated: 08/31/06.