What is Bipolar Disorder or Manic-Depression?
Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness that affects a child's or adolescent’s mood and behavior. Young people with Bipolar Disorder have dramatic changes in their moods, alternating between feeling very depressed and feeling high or manic. They may have more normal moods between these episodes. The periods of depression or mania can last for days, weeks or even months.
Because of the depression and mania, Bipolar Disorder is also called Manic-Depression. At this site, we will use the term Bipolar. In other places, you may see the term Manic-Depression used.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Intense feelings of sadness, despair and worthlessness
- Lack of interest in playing with friends
- An increase or decrease in sleeping and/or eating
- Feeling tired all the time
- Thoughts of death and/or suicide (Read our page on Suicide in Children/Adolescents to learn the warning signs, who is at risk, how you can help and for other information.)
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Crying spells
- Irritability and/or fighting
- Physical complaints, like headaches or stomachaches
- Failing grades in school
- In young children, having great difficulty separating from parents
Symptoms of mania include:
- Extreme irritability or silliness
- Sleeping very little and not feeling tired
- Hyperactivity and distractibility
- Increased talking - talking a lot, talking fast, changing topics quickly
- Defiance and rage
- An increase in sexual behavior
- Reckless or dangerous behavior
In the past, a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder was rarely made for children. Based on more recent research, Bipolar Disorder in children is now better recognized and can be treated. Currently, it is unknown exactly how common Bipolar Disorder is in children and adolescents. Estimates are that over one million children and adolescents have Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a serious illness that can interfere with a child or adolescent’s functioning in the family, at school and with friends.
What causes Bipolar Disorder?
Research indicates that Bipolar Disorder is genetic and tends to run in families. The chances of a child or adolescent having Bipolar Disorder are much greater if their parents and/or grandparents have it. Bipolar Disorder is believed to be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain. The start of Bipolar Disorder can be triggered by extreme stress, such as the death of a loved one, substance abuse or an illness. Bipolar Disorder may also occur without an obvious cause.
How can Bipolar Disorder Be Treated?
There are many treatments that can reduce the depression and mania and allow the child or adolescent to enjoy their family and friends, to learn, and to prepare to have productive adult lives. Treatments include play therapy for children, talking therapies (or counseling) for older children and adolescents, and medications. Counseling with parents helps them to understand their young person’s difficulties and manage the symptoms. A combination of these treatments is usually the most effective.
A child or adolescent who appears to be depressed or shows signs of manic or hyperactive behavior, excessive temper outbursts and mood changes should be evaluated by a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker who has experience treating Bipolar Disorder. An accurate evaluation is especially important since medications used to treat Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and those used for Clinical Depression may worsen symptoms of Mania.
The biggest problem with Bipolar Disorder is that children and adolescents often go years before they get the treatment they need.
The sections below provide links to web sites that give additional information about Bipolar Disorder as well as a link to Westchester County Mental Health Services, a database which includes local service providers who treat Bipolar Disorder.
Additional Information About Bipolar Disorder
Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF)
The Foundation is a parent-led organization founded in 1999 that shares information on Bipolar Disorder in children and adolescents. Its membership includes parents, young people with Bipolar Disorder, family members and professionals who work with Bipolar Disorder in children and adolescents. This is their home page. It connects to a variety of information about the Foundation’s activities and services, as well as information about Bipolar Disorder in children and adolescents.
This site gives easy to read, thorough, current information about Bipolar Disorder in children and adolescents. It includes information on symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, parenting and educational issues.
National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)
NIMH is an agency of the United States government that does research on mental illnesses, including Bipolar Disorder. This site has technical information about diagnosing and treating children and adolescents with Bipolar Disorder.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
The Academy is an organization for physicians trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and emotional disturbances in children and adolescents. This site has a brief summary of Bipolar Disorder in Adolescents.
This site gives technical information about symptoms and effective treatments, including detailed information on medications for Clinical Depression and Bipolar Disorder in children and adolescents. It also discusses the suicide risk associated with Clinical Depression and Bipolar Disorder.
Information courtesy of the MHA of Westchester County, Inc.