An evaluation by a child/adolescent psychiatrist is the first step to a bipolar diagnosis. Here are eight symptoms that could warrant a visit to a mental health professional.
#1 Manic Episodes
Some signs your child may be experiencing mania, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP): Unrealistic highs in self-esteem, such as feelings of having special superhero powers; increases in energy and decreased need for sleep, or being able to go with little sleep for days without feeling tired; rapid thinking and talking; and repeated high risk-taking behavior, such as sexual promiscuity, reckless driving, or abusing alcohol and drugs.
#2 Depressive Episodes
The AACAP describes this abnormal state for children or teens as having low energy, fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased enjoyment in favorite activities; decreased appetite or major change in eating habits; complaints of physical illnesses, such as stomach aches and headaches; and thoughts of death.
#3 Anger and Rage
All children get angry periodically, but children and adolescents with bipolar disorder tend to feel anger at a very intense level. This can manifest into violence, possibly attacking others or destroying their toys. Because children with bipolar anger usually are not able to control their outbursts, these emotions turn into severe rage that can last for hours.
#4 Severe Fluctuations in Mood
Bipolar children are more likely to have rapid cycling, moving back and forth between a depressed mood and a manic mood over a shorter period of time or even within the same day. It’s common to see a pattern of severe fluctuations in mood, energy, and daily routines, which lead to difficulty in functioning in school, with friends, or at home, says Helena Verdeli, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University.
#5 Flights of Fancy
Although less common than symptoms of rage and anger, children and teens do experience elation, grandiosity, or mania, and this could be a key signal in an initial assessment, says bipolar research expert Eric Youngstrom, PhD. He asks parents if their child is being overly giddy and goofy at unexpected times, like bedtime and first thing in the morning, and whether “the elation is happening too often, too intensely, or lasting too long.”
#6 Family Connection
“Most of the kids have a family history of mood disorder or bipolarity,” according to child psychiatrist Dr. Rosalie Greenberg. The chances of developing bipolar disorder are increased if a child’s parents or siblings have the disorder. But the role of genetics is not absolute and a child from a family with a history of bipolar disorder may never develop the disorder.
#7 Changes at School
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, symptoms in teens point to school issues. They may experience a drop in grades, quit sports teams or other activities, be suspended from school or arrested for fighting or drug use, engage in risky sexual behavior, or talk about death or even taking their own lives. Talk with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to determine if they are seeing similar behaviors at school as what you’re seeing at home.
#8 Differences in Similar Illnesses
Mental health professionals may need to sift out bipolar disorder from other look-alike symptoms of illnesses. “For example, if a child with ADD has insomnia, they will be tired the next day; a child with bipolar [who didn’t sleep] won’t feel a need for sleep,” explains Benjamin Goldstein, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto. Hypersexuality is another bipolar marker, as it is a symptom of mania but not characteristic of ADD.
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs.
As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
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