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Everyone, especially youth, experiences frequent or dramatic changes in their mood or energy levels from time-to-time. Feeling a range of emotions is a normal part of life. This can make it very difficult to know if the behaviors a child is displaying are healthy responses to what’s going on in their life or something more serious such as bipolar disorder.
Here are some characteristics that someone with bipolar disorder is likely to experience:
- Depressive symptoms that last most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks.
- Manic symptoms that last most of the day, every day, for four to seven days.
- Mood episodes that cause serious disruptions to eating, sleeping, schoolwork, home life, and social life and represent a real change from the child’s general level of functioning.
- The problems caused by mood episodes are never limited to only happening at home—they extend to several other areas of the child’s life.
- The episodes are cyclical, meaning that even though they might go away, they almost always return.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar I Disorder: A child typically experiences manic episodes that last at least seven days, and/or manic symptoms that are so severe that they need immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes may also occur and typically last at least two weeks. It’s also possible for them to experience symptoms of depression and mania at the same time.
- Bipolar II Disorder: A child typically experiences a pattern of depressive episodes and manic episodes, but not as severe of manic episodes as someone with Bipolar I Disorder.
- Cyclothymic Disorder (also called Cyclothymia): A child may experience periods of manic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least one year. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
Signs and Symptoms
It can be difficult for a child to understand and explain what they are feeling so it’s very important for caregivers to pay close attention to behaviors. There are two main symptoms of bipolar disorder—depression and mania. Below is a list of behaviors that may indicate a child or teen is struggling with bipolar disorder.
- Expressing feelings of sadness, worthlessness or hopelessness
- Self-harming and/or thoughts of suicide
- Feeling very tired, low energy
- Changes in sleeping habits (such as sleeping too little or too much)
- Eating a lot more and significant weight gain
- Unable to make decisions
- Unable to complete simple tasks
- Lacking interest in activities that they once enjoyed
- Feeling a big boost of energy and ambition
- Spending money excessively, buying things they wouldn’t typically want
- Unable to sleep or eat
- Speaking very quickly and saying things that do not make sense
- Becoming easily irritated or jumpy
- Experiencing psychosis, where you see or hear things that are not really there
- Acting recklessly, such as drinking alcohol excessively or using drugs
What You Can Do to Help
If you know a child who is struggling with bipolar, here are some ways you can support them:
- Seek professional help. It’s important to have a physician or licensed mental health professional examine the child for an accurate assessment and diagnosis of their physical and mental health.
- Encourage them to exercise or do physical activities they enjoy. Regular exercise can help with depression and promote better sleep.
- Help them monitor their medication schedule, if applicable, to ensure they are not missing any doses or taking more than prescribed.
- Be very calm, patient and gentle with them. Recovery for bipolar disorder can take a long time and there’s no cure. The goal is to find the right fit of ongoing treatment and therapy based on their individual needs and lifestyle.
- Be observant of their behaviors and help them keep track of when mood changes, depression or mania occur. Tracking this over time can help identify triggers, what treatment approaches are most effective or any additional concerns.
KVC Hospitals Can Help
KVC Hospitals is a network of nonprofit children’s psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers serving youth ages 6 to 18. Each year, we give thousands of youth a safe place to heal, build resilience, and overcome struggles with behavioral and mental health challenges. Our compassionate team of psychiatric, medical and behavioral health professionals provides a nurturing and therapeutic experience along with a treatment plan tailored to meet each child’s individual needs. The goal of our treatment programs is for each child to safely return home with the resources and supports in place to live a healthy and happy life in their community.
If you’re concerned that a child in your care is struggling with bipolar disorder or other mental health needs, call KVC Hospitals at 913-890-7468. We’re available 24/7 to answer your questions.
Here’s a list of additional resources you can contact for help:
- Call the child’s primary care physician or your local community mental health center
- Learn more from the International Bipolar Foundation at ibpf.org
- Visit the Anxiety & Depression Association of America website at adaa.org
- Text HOME to 741741 for 24/7 support from the Crisis Text Line
- Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264 or visit their website at nami.org
- Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
- Learn more about bipolar disorder from the Child Mind Institute
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