Childhood Bipolar Disorder

All children can be moody, some more than others. A difficult home or school situation can make a child sad or angry but not to the level of a “psychiatric disorder.”

What Is Childhood Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder in children is a serious mood disorder, with a strong genetic component, associated with abnormalities in the structure and function in certain areas of the brain. Faulty parenting is not the cause, although family problems can worsen the symptoms. Children with bipolar disorder have marked ups and downs in mood and behavior which go way beyond normal moodiness. The illness makes the lives of the child and the family miserable, and it disrupts the child’s functioning and relationships both within the family and in the outside world.

What Are the Symptoms of Childhood Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar children seldom have the discrete episodes of mania and depression seen in adults. The symptoms are usually intertwined, and the mood swings are frequent, sometimes more than once a day (“rapid cycling”). If you are the parent of a bipolar child, you will recognize some of the following:

Manic Symptoms

  • Racing thoughts and rapid speech
  • Surges of energy
  • Irritability and extreme outbursts of anger
  • Reckless and irrational behavior that may even be dangerous
  • Inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Very little need for sleep.

Depressive Symptoms. The symptoms are the same as those seen in childhood depression. They include:

  • Deep sadness
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Extreme lack of energy and exhaustion
  • Physical complaints.

What About the Family?

Bipolar disorder is very hard on families. The child complains all the time of being bored and demands constant attention. The siblings are neglected or the targets of physical aggression. The mother is exhausted, and the marriage suffers.

Consulting with Dr. Turecki

If you are worried about your child and family and contact Dr. Turecki, he will first speak with you by phone to learn more about your concerns. You will then come in with your child for a Comprehensive Evaluation. At the end of the visit, Dr. Turecki will share his professional opinion with you, answer your questions and then collaborate with you (and an older child or adolescent) to develop a personalized treatment plan. Almost certainly, the plan will include the use of carefully chosen and monitored medication and parental education and guidance, with an emphasis on behavioral strategies. Therapy for the child is usually needed, and alternative approaches can be helpful. Dr. Turecki may sometimes recommend help for other family members.