Bipolar Disorder in Children

Bipolar Disorder in children is a complex difficult disorder to diagnose.  I know because I have been working with these children for many years.  In fact, it is so complex that it is very frequently misdiagnosed. Click here for more information on misdiagnosis of bipolar in children .

I hope these pages and the pages they are linked to will give help and guidance to parents, professionals and others concerned about children with bipolar disorder.

Please browse through these topics on bipolar disorder in children before reading on. Each topic can be clicked on to access more information about that area! If you are looking for information on medications, anxiety, or teens or toddlers click on the navigation bar on the left hand side of this page.

Click here for more information about TDDD a new diagnostic category proposed for children with mood dysregulation.

Information about Depression in Children.

Pages about symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in children.

Anger is also an area of concern for parents. Click on the links below for some information about anger.

School is frequently a difficult are to navigate. Below are pages about school.

Links about Differences between ADHD and Bipolar

Pages about Differences between Autism and Bipolar

Looking for support from others who have experienced what you have?

click here to find out about support groups and join the online group. If you are in Charlotte, consider attending our free monthly support meeting!

Are you a parent of a bipolar child, who is also suffering from bipolar disorder?

Links about Parenting Tips

Click here for more information about bipolar disorder parenting techniques. Click here for more information dealing with your child's diagnosis .

What's all the controversy about?

The first serious studies on bipolar disorder in children began about fifteen years ago This is despite the fact that case studies in psychiatric literature dating as far back as the 1920’s, document cases of mania in children.

You might ask yourself, why did it take so long? The psychiatric profession is notoriously slow to recognize mental health issues in children. Beliefs get established in the profession and Doctors are slow to change their minds- even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Usually, mental health diagnoses are studied in adults, and then whatever is learned is applied to children. This is unfortunate because many of the symptoms used to identify disorders in adults are not observed in children.

If you suspect your child might have child bipolar you have probably experienced some of the division that still continues in the profession over the diagnosis. Many parents come to me for help insisting that they recognize the symptoms in their child and baffled by the refusal of professionals to make the diagnosis.

Difficulties with making the diagnosis

Clinicians and psychiatrists are hesitant to make a diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children because with that diagnosis comes the need for a lifelong cocktail of medications. The first line of treatment for bipolar in children is medication. Once your child carries that diagnosis the implication is that they will need medication for the rest of their life. That’s pretty serious! Also, the medications are pretty serious, they are not all well researched and we don’t know much about the long term effects of them.

Bipolar Disorder in children hasn’t been accepted into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a new category.  The DSM is the manual mental health professionals use to diagnose all mental health conditions.   Making a bipolar diagnosis for a child is difficult when it must be done according to adult criteria, and therefore, insurance companies can sometimes argue that it is not an accurate diagnosis.  There is also a lot of overlap of symptoms between disorders such as autism and adhd (and many others) and bipolar disorder. In children, there are not necessarily easily distinguishable periods of time when they are manic versus when they are depressed. They do have periods of mania and depression, but the cycling is much shorter and the symptoms of mania and depression are different in children.

All of these factors conspire to make it difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder in children. Every day, more research is being done in this area and we are learning a lot about how to recognize the symptoms of bipolar in children. Not only is it difficult for professionals to keep up with all the research, but as bipolar disorder has symptomatic overlap with ADHD, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, oppositional defiant disorder and autism . It takes a lot of work to tease out all these other factors and get to the root of the problem.

I think my child has bipolar disorder, why is important for him to be diagnosed?

  •  It’s is generally the consensus in the field that the earlier a child is identified as having bipolar disorder, the better their long term chance of success.  Children who have bipolar disorder need medication to be appropriately treated.   If your child is misdiagnosed or not diagnosed their condition could worsen.
  •  A formal diagnosis is very important when choosing a qualified therapist or psychiatrist.
  • When a child is not stable, their academics, social life, self esteem and family life suffer. When diagnosed and treated the prognosis can be very good. Bipolar disorder in children is treatable!

Some other reasons why a formal diagnosis is important:

  • You likely will need a formal diagnosis to get accommodations for your child in school.  A bipolar diagnosis qualifies as a disability.
  • The diagnosis of bipolar disorder can help you to choose parenting techniques that are appropriate.
  • If mistreated this illness has a high correlation with academic difficulties, substance abuse and suicide.

What can I do as a parent to help get my child an appropriate diagnosis?

Seek out therapists and psychiatrists who have training in identifying children with bipolar disorder. Ask the therapist or Doctor what their credentials are.  Arrive at your first appointment with a typed family history in hand.  This family history should include both sides of your family and document substance abuse, mental health issues, legal issues and anything else of relevance.

  • Be prepared to give a clear account of your child’s developmental history, behavior as an infant, school behavior, and interactions with peers.
  • Keep a diary or chart of fluctuations in your child’s mood, sleep patterns, energy levels and appetite.
  • Keep a history of medications trialed and treatment providers your child has seen.

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