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The Facts About Child and Adolescent Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is one of the main mental illnesses that I treated as a psychiatric nurse. It is largely characterised by swings in mood from mania to depression. In relatively recent years it has been discovered that it is not only adults who can suffer from it. Adolescents, and even children, can also suffer from this serious illness. Bipolar in children and adolescents is known as early onset bipolar and presents its own challenges. It has to be handled differently from the form of bipolar that adults suffer from, both in the way it is diagnosed, treated and managed.

The Difference Between Adult, and Adolescent and Child Bipolar Disorder

According to WebMD.com in their article ‘Bipolar in Teens’ bipolar can be diagnosed in children as young as 6 but is most commonly diagnosed between 14 and 16 years old. Adolescence is a time of raging hormones and mood swings, but bipolar is more than this. ‘About.com.bipolar disorder’ characterises this difference as the fact that the presence of the illness significantly impairs people’s functioning at school, home and with their peers. NIH.gov states in ‘Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens’ that early onset bipolar is more severe and the symptoms occur more often than in the adult form of the illness. It is also harder to diagnose as it is often mistaken for attention deficit disorder.

The Symptoms and Behaviours That Manifest in Early Onset Bipolar Disorder

WebMD.com: ‘Bipolar in Teens’ points out that sufferers experience very rapid changes in mood during one single day. Their feelings manifest themselves when ‘manic’ as excitability, very rapid speech, an over developed sense of self importance and a problem sleeping. Teenagers with bipolar will often wander around the house, looking for things to do during the night because of this. Both children and teenagers have a tendency to appear obsessed with talking about or exploring sex during their manic phase. During a sufferer’s low period he may present as moody, very down, move very slowly and may also complain of pains in the head, stomach and muscles. An obsession with death, including suicide is also not uncommon. According to ‘Rpsych.com:Bipolar(Manic Depression)’ these symptoms can manifest themselves as behaviours such as avoiding school, drug and alcohol abuse and self harming and, in some cases, running away from home.

Early Intervention and Treatment of Adolescent Bipolar

Kidshealth.org tells us that early intervention and treatment is vital as, left untreated, high risk behaviours such as promiscuity, drug taking and even attempted suicide may occur. If the child is suicidal or totally out of control a stay in hospital may be necessary for the safety of the child. If the patient is manageable at home then the treatment options for bipolar are similar as for adults and include mood stabilisers such as Lithium and Lamictal. Antipsychotics such as olanzapine or risperidone and anti depressants are also used, but the dosages and combinations are different than those used for adult bipolar due to the growth and development of the child being treated. Talking treatments are vital in the treatment of early onset bipolar. ‘Rpsych.comBipolar(Manic Depression)’ tells us that these treatments include family therapy and interpersonal therapy. The therapies are all aimed at helping the child to cope with the mood swings and the problems that bipolar brings.

Helping Your Child Cope With Bipolar Disorder and how He can Help Himself

The teenage years are hard enough without having a serious mental illness to deal with as well. Kidshealth.com suggests that you let the school know so that they can be a little more understanding of possibly disruptive behaviour. The most important thing a parent can do is be open and understanding, as a strong supportive network is vital for anyone with bipolar. Parents can also help by ensuring that their child takes their medication. One of the unfortunate side effects of a lot of psychiatric medications is that they cause weight gain. This is something that teenage girls, especially, will have a big problem with. Ensuring regular exercise and a healthy diet will help this. One of the best things anyone with bipolar can do is join a support group; it can really help to talk to people who are going through the same thing. Taking away the feeling of isolation that a lot of adolescents feel, who are suffering, can prevent behaviours such as running away from home or turning to drugs.

Living with any mental illness is hard, but you don’t have to go it alone. sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger. Here are some numbers in the UK for when it all gets too much.

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