Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder characteristic of persistent, overwhelming and uncontrollable changes in:

• Moods
• Activities
• Thoughts
• And behaviors

If there is a family history of bipolar disorder or depression, a child has a much greater chance of having it. Parents cannot choose whether or not their children will have bipolar disorder. The disorder is often difficult to recognize and diagnose in children. Left untreated, bipolar disorder, puts a child at risk for:

• School failure
• Drug abuse
• And suicide

It is of most importance to seek the advice of a qualified professional when trying to find out if your child has bipolar disorder. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be mistaken for other medical/mental health conditions. Children with this disorder can also have other mental health needs at the same time. Other disorders include but are not limited to:

• Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
• Conduct disorder
• Oppositional defiant disorder
Anxiety disorders
• Autistic spectrum disorders
• Drug abuse

An appropriate diagnosis is crucial for a child who needs help. Sometimes misperceptions and misunderstandings lead to delayed diagnoses, misdiagnoses or no diagnosis. This can be due to a family’s culture and language in how causes and symptoms are perceived and then described to a mental health care provider.

If symptoms are properly communicated to the appropriate medical professionals and a bipolar disorder is diagnosed, treatment can begin to help children and adolescents with bipolar disorder live productive and fulfilling lives. Time is precious and time lost to any human being can never be regained.

With many health problems different people experience the same symptoms. This is not the case with bipolar disorder in children. They experience symptoms differently. For example:

• Children with the illness experience mood swings that alternate or cycle, between periods of highs and lows called mania and depression with varying moods in between much more rapidly than adults.
• Mood swings in children sometimes occur many times within a day

In addition, mental health experts differ in their interpretation of what symptoms children experience. Review the following commonly reported signs of bipolar disorder in children:

• Excessive elevated moods alternating with periods of depressed or irritable moods
• Periods of high, goal-directed activity, and/or physical agitation
• Racing thoughts and speaking very fast
• Unusual/erratic sleep patterns and/or a decreased need for sleep
• Difficulty settling as babies
• Severe temper tantrums, sometimes called “rages.”
• Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities, daredevil behavior and/or grandiose, “super-confident” thinking and behaviors
• Impulsivity and/or distractibility
• Inappropriate sexual activity, even at very young ages
• Hallucinations and/or delusions
• Suicidal thoughts and/or talks of killing self, and
• Inflexible, oppositional/defiant, and extremely irritable behavior

If a qualified mental health provider diagnoses your child with bipolar disorder, the provider may suggest several different treatment options including strategies for:

• Managing behaviors
• Medications
• And/or talk therapy

If a “system of care” is available, your child’s mental health care provider may suggest enrolling.

System of care usually consists of:

• Community-based human services specialists and supports
The community-based services and supports are organized to meet the challenges of children and youth with serious mental health needs. A system of care can help by:
• Tailoring services to the unique needs of your child and family
• Making services and supports available in your language and connecting you with professionals who respect your values and beliefs
• Encouraging you and your child to play as much of a role in the design of a treatment plan as you want; and
• Providing services from within your community, whenever possible

To find a system of care community for a child with bipolar disorder in your area:

• Visit the Mental Health SAMHSA government web site and click on “Child, Adolescent & Family” and then “Systems of Care”
• Contact the National Mental Health Information center by calling toll-free 1-800-789-2647

According to national data collected for more than a decade, families in systems of care say these systems do work. The data from systems of care related to children and youth with bipolar disorder reveal the following:

• Children and youth demonstrate improvement in emotional and behavioral functioning
• Caregivers report that children and youth have a reduction in conflicts with others in the family
• Caregivers experience an increased ability to do their jobs
• Caregivers report fewer missed days and a reduction in tardiness from work
• Children and youth with bipolar disorder improve in school-related tasks, such as paying attention in class, taking notes, and completing assignments on time
• Children and youth with bipolar disorder have fewer contacts with the juvenile justice system after enrolling in a system of care
Systems of care may be different for each community; however, they all share three core values which are:
• Systems of care are family-driven and youth-guided
• Systems of care are culturally and linguistically competent
• Systems of care are community-based

These three values play an important role in ensuring that services and supports are effective and responsive to the needs of each child, youth, and family.

Human services specialists and other professional health care workers will:

• Help you learn more about bipolar disorder in children
• Help you locate services and supports tailored to your child’s needs that include:

1. Counseling
2. Health care
3. Specialized schooling
4. After-school programs
5. Transportation
6. And child care
7. Helping you become an effective advocate for your child’s needs
8. Will work as a partnership with you and your child, inviting your continual input
9. Will help you learn how to educate others about bipolar illness in children

Usual steps of enrolling in a system of care include:

1. Diagnosis and Referral
2. Assessment and Intake
3. Care Planning and Partnership Building

Source: SAMHSA’s National Mental Health Information Center

This article is FREE to publish with the resource box.

Author's Bio: 

Written by: Connie Limon Visit: for more information. Visit: for a variety of FREE reprint articles.