The famous novelist Virginia Woolf had it. So did musicians Sting and Axl Rose of the rock group Guns n’ Roses. Last week, Catherine Zeta Jones was discovered to have it, too. “It” is bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes erratic, sometimes self-destructive behavior.
Statistics show that more children than adults are now being diagnosed with it. Terri Cheney, an American author and herself bipolar, wrote about her experiences as a child, saying that severe depression at the age of seven has driven her to attempt to kill herself. From the outside, she seemed perfectly fine – she was popular and even graduated valedictorian of her high school class, that her parents did not notice her emotional anguish which was coupled with the intermittent loss of appetite, unexplainable low episodes and sudden hyper-energy typical of children with bipolar disorder.
Repeated ups and downs, or ‘rapid cycling’, are the mark of bipolar disorder : in the course of a single day the child could be ‘manic’, and in the next he would be feeling hopeless. While being manic among adults may translate to a display of euphoric behavior, children may manifest it differently, i.e., speaking more quickly than usual. The low points may make him lethargic, extremely sad, or sickly.
Be aware, though, that seeing one or two of these symptoms in your child does not automatically make him bipolar, since it can be challenging to diagnose bipolar disorder in children. It may help to know that according to research, 80% of children with this disease come from families with a history of mood disorders or alcoholism. Common symptoms presented by children with bipolar disorder include: • low self-esteem • difficulty getting up in the morning • giddiness • distractibility • explosive temper tantrums
Still, there are no clear guidelines for diagnosing bipolar disorder in children.
Because of the stigma it presents, some parents choose to disregard the symptoms of bipolar disorder. However, this is a serious mental condition that should not be ignored. If you suspect that your child may have bipolar disorder, it is better to trust your instincts and err on the safe side. Have him evaluated by a mental health professional, and seek counseling yourself. While there is no cure for this disease, the symptoms can be managed and allow the child to enjoy a productive life.
SOURCES: • March 29, 2011. Terri Cheney. “Symptons of Bipolar Disorder in Children” Babble.com • February 27, 2010. Kimberly Read. “Red Flags: Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Children” Bipolar.about.com