What is Bipolar Disorder?
BPD is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that interfere with a child’s ability to carry out tasks, sleep well, use good judgment, and interact with others. It’s more than someone being “moody.” The mood and behavior changes swing between two extremes called mania and depression.
The mania end of the spectrum is characterized by high energy and very positive moods or a less extreme version called hypomania. At the other end of the spectrum, depression manifests itself through very low energy and an inability to motivate to do much of anything. There are also several types of BPD with varying degrees of mania and depression. Each one differs from the others by the severity and frequency of the manic or depressive episodes experienced.
The BPD diagnosis for a child or teenager could vary slightly from an adult because their episodic patterns don’t always show up in the same ways or with the same frequency. This is another reason it’s important to find an experienced healthcare professional you and your child feel comfortable with. That’s where we and others like us come in. Understanding the differences between disorders, their causes, and effective treatment options for families is why we exist.
Where does Bipolar Disorder come from?
There are a variety of causes or contributing factors that can lead to BPD and identifying which one applies could also help with treatment. Some studies suggest bipolar disorder is genetic because it tends to run in families, but that isn’t always true or the whole story. Certain drugs or alcohol use can induce BPD and so can other medical conditions, such as stroke or multiple sclerosis. Because of this, a physical examination is part of the diagnosis process.
The healthcare professional(s) you choose should understand how bipolar disorder differs from other conditions and how risk factors may play a role.
What BPD symptoms should I look for?
People with bipolar disorder have unusually intense emotional states that occur in “episodes.” In other words, these intense emotional states may last days or months, but they won’t last forever. If you’re noticing unusual behavior in your child or another loved one, there are things you can look for and the diagnosis process will most likely include some form of behavior observation and recording.
Remember, when your child is experiencing bipolar disorder the following mood and behavior changes can last days or months. A BPD diagnosis is normally given during a person’s teenage years or early 20’s, but some mood and behavior changes during that time can be attributed to hormonal changes. The difference is in the severity, frequency, and duration.
- Mood changes: Extreme irritability; or overly long period(s) of feeling “high,” happy, or unusually outgoing
- Behavior changes: Talking very quickly, jumping between ideas, racing thoughts, easily distractible, increased activities and starting new projects, restlessness, lack of sleep, unrealistic beliefs in abilities, impulsivity, or engaging in pleasurable high-risk activities
- Mood changes: Overly long period(s) of feeling sad or hopeless, loss of interest in activities
- Behavior changes: Feeling overly tired; difficulty concentrating, remembering, or decision-making; restless; irritable; changes in sleeping and eating; or thoughts of self-harm
How is BPD treated?
Bipolar disorder can be treated over the long term with a combination of medication and cognitive behavior therapy, though there is no cure. Additional therapies may include family-focused therapy to educate those around your child, interpersonal therapy to improve your child’s social skills, or substance abuse treatment.
What should I do next?
If this description seems to fit the behaviors you’re observing in your child or loved one, contact a licensed healthcare professional with experience in mental health. Like many behavioral conditions, bipolar disorder is complicated and can be mistaken for other similar conditions. We’re here to answer any questions you may have. Two additional good places to start are:
- Pediatrician or primary care physician
- Mental health specialist