Bipolar Disorder and How It Works
Lots of children have abstract feelings, loaded thoughts, and ideas parents struggle to understand. Children are sponges for knowledge and are incredibly creative and curious. Eccentric thoughts and behaviors are all part of their learning experience.
However, when children have out-of-bounds reactions to events, intense mood swings, particular irritability, and strange swings in energy, they may have bipolar disorder. One moment your child is acting mellow and understanding; the next, they are reacting intensely to something seemingly small. Bipolar disorder is stressful, but there are effective treatments that will help manage the symptoms.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar disorder is “a mental disorder that causes people to experience noticeable, sometimes extreme changes in mood and behavior.” Bipolar disorder can present with intense changes in mood, energy, and sleep quality in children.
Manic episodes are characterized by high energy and happy feelings, while depressive episodes are characterized by low energy and sad or depressed feelings. While many children go through periods of extreme highs and lows in energy, it doesn’t always mean they have bipolar disorder. If you notice these symptoms in response to something that doesn’t warrant such an intense change, you might want to take your child to a mental health specialist.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
If your child displays the following symptoms, there is a chance they may be dealing with bipolar disorder:
- Intense happiness or silliness for long periods
- A very short temper or extreme irritability
- Talking fast about a myriad of different things
- Have trouble sleeping despite feeling tired
- Have trouble staying focused
- Experience racing thoughts
- Seem overly involved in risky activities
- Feel frequent and unprovoked sadness
- Feel increased irritability and hostility
- Complain about pain, like stomach and headaches
- Have a noticeable increase in the amount of sleep
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Have feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
- Have difficulty communicating and maintaining relationships
- Eating too much or too little
- Have little interest and no enjoyment in activities they used to like
- Talk about death or have suicidal thoughts
Both manic and depressive episodes can last anywhere from several days to several months. Some children and adolescents will not want to get out of bed for months during a depressive episode. Other children may take up an athletic activity and thrive during a manic episode. The signs and symptoms are intense and usually noticeable in children. These changes can be scary or anxiety-inducing for the kids experiencing them. It’s important to remember that the child genuinely has no control over the swings they feel between episodes. Parents can help by teaching their children how to cope with them and react in safe ways.
Further Effects of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder affects not only the child but their families as well. The family of a child who has bipolar disorder needs to educate themselves and adjust to help the child. Thankfully, there are ways to help and support children with bipolar disorder.
Here are a few things to help educate you.
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The child may experience problems learning and concentrating. Talk to your child’s doctor and school about ways to help.
- Anxiety Disorders: As mentioned, many children will experience anxiety due to their mood swings and separate stressors. Continue to assure your child that you love them and find a therapist to give your family strategies to work through their anxiety.
- Addiction/Substance Use Disorders: Due to a propensity for risky behaviors, some teens with bipolar disorder will experiment with drugs or alcohol, resulting in addiction. Talk to your teen about risky behaviors and encourage them to make healthy choices. If worst comes to worst, you may need to find an addiction counselor for more help.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Treatment for bipolar disorder should meet the child’s needs. If there are co-occurring disorders like ADHD or anxiety, these need concurrent treatment. Doctors may prescribe psychosocial therapy, medication, or other treatments to help your child with bipolar disorder.
Talk regularly with your child’s doctor and therapist about the side effects of medication, differences in mood or treatment effectiveness, symptom management or changes, and how your child feels about the treatment. Stay positive, and continue to assure your child that you know they are struggling and are committed to providing support. It may take some trial and error to find the right balance for managing their symptoms. It’s a lot for a parent to carry, but the goal is that the child grows to find that balance.
Bipolar disorder can be incredibly difficult for parents to deal with alone. The fear of children’s risky behaviors, mood swings, hostility, and more can be overwhelming at times. For some families, even with treatment, balance is hard to achieve. Your family and your child may experience trauma as a result of bipolar disorder or see that trauma triggers their symptoms. Either way, if you need more help, call Havenwood Academy. Our professional staff specializes in trauma and mental health, and we can create a structured plan to help your child manage their symptoms and coexist with their bipolar disorder. At Havenwood Academy, we offer a safe space for your teen daughter to learn, grow, participate in activities, and try new things. We want your teen to succeed, and we know that often means getting help. Let us help your child manage their bipolar disorder. Learn more and call us today at (435) 586-2500.
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