Bipolar Disorder Symptoms in Children
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Bipolar disorder symptoms in children may be confused with other disorders. Anxiety disorders, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, and autistic disorders all have overlapping criteria. Please feel free to use this information as a guideline if you suspect your child may have bipolar disorder. However, do not attempt to make the diagnosis yourself. Find a professional who is familiar with the disorder to make an official diagnosis.
Extreme Mood Swings
Bipolar disorder, whether in an adult or child, is characterized by fluctuation between the mood states of depression and mania. Adults with bipolar disorder have distinct periods of mania (high energy moods) and depression (low energy moods). In children these states exist, but they are not easily distinguished and they shift rapidly many times a day. This rapid cycling and varying symptoms in children complicates our understand of bipolar disorder in children. Are you looking for more help with diagnostic issues? Are professionals giving you contradictory information?
Signs of Mania and Depression in Children
Adults who are depressed experience an inability to feel joy. Young children experience this as boredom. When they feel this way they may bother the adults around them. This can be infuriating and exhausting for the adults. However, these children are only trying to feel better. The boredom is scary and uncomfortable.
Depressed children can be irritable and angry. They may make negative self statements such as “I hate myself” or “No one likes me”. They may become violent or aggressive when they are depressed and lash out, or they may isolate themselves. When kids are experiencing irritability they often get in trouble for being disrespectful to adults.
Changes in Sleep and Appetite
Depressed kids may lose their appetite or sleep more than usual.
Sadness is another sign of child depression is sadness. Children may cry withdraw or otherwise indicate they are feeling sad. They may have trouble expressing these emotions depending on their age. Bipolar toddler symptoms are much more difficult to identify because their verbal skills are not as sophisticated. Toddlers may cry and whine and may seem less playful.
Children who are depressed may be preoccupied with morbid thoughts and their play and artwork usually reflects this. For example, one occasion I had a parent who brought in a child who was “just not himself”. During the first session he drew a picture of a headstone with his name on it. He was clearly experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Bipolar disorder symptoms in children include the mood state of mania. Mania is defined by some of the features below.
Young children experiencing mania may laugh hysterically for no reason. They act goofy and out of control, but rarely do other people with them understand why.
Manic children make statements about how wonderful they are, or all of the things they can do. In therapy children who are experiencing mania have told me they can fly like superman, beat up their father or that they are stronger than any superhero. They may also become excited without a reason, talk quickly without much breath between words, or jump from topic to topic.
Decreased Need for Sleep
Children experiencing mania need less sleep or may stay up all night. Bipolar disorder symptoms in children usually include some kind of sleep disruption. Parents will often come in and say kids were up moving around the furniture, taking things apart or going through their clothes, closets and cabinets looking for something to do.
Children with mania may become interested in sexuality without any evidence of sexual abuse. These children act flirtatious beyond their years, may try to touch the private areas of adults (including teachers), or use explicit sexual language.
There is a great deal of overlap between mania symptoms and depression symptoms. For example irritability and aggression are symptoms of both mood states. Bipolar disorder symptoms in children include rapid and dramatic mood shifts often many times during one day. Even if you are able to distinguish between the two states, they can disappear just as quickly as you identify them.
Child Bipolar is a Spectrum Disorder
Bipolar disorder symptoms in children are different from child to child. This means that some kids have it worse than others. For example, one child may have a great amount of difficulty with hyper-sexuality while another child with the diagnosis has no hyper-sexuality. Other symptoms noted to occur in children with bipolar disorder are listed below. These traits may also be associated with many other mental health conditions in children. Just because a child has tantrums does not necessarily mean they have bipolar disorder! Remember it is extremely difficult to diagnosis bipolar disorder for a variety of reasons, if you feel your child has bipolar make sure to get your child evaluated by a professional who has experience.
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