Bipolar Disorder In Kids About 1% of children in the U.S. have bipolar
disorder -- extreme changes in mood. Medication helps, but it can't teach
children coping skills.
Judith Lederman's son tried to jump off a pier in his first suicide attempt.
He was 5 years old. "A psychologist said he was just trying to get
attention," Lederman recalls. "He was 8 years old when he had his first
full-blown manic episode," says Lederman. "He stopped sleeping for days
on end, became very hostile, was pulling knives on us, and tried to attack his
The bipolar spectrum is a term used to refer to conditions of many people with depression, substance abuse, and a wide range of other psychiatric conditions who also have some symptoms of bipolar disorder. Although they have these similar symptoms, they are not diagnosed with bipolar disorder as it is commonly defined. Some psychiatrists find the concept useful. But since it has not been rigorously studied it hasn't been widely adopted.
Lederman and her husband took their son to the hospital, where he was
admitted for a three-day evaluation. At the end of the three days, he had been
diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
From that day forward, the Lederman family's life changed. And even though
their son's condition is now stable, it requires "constant vigilance,"
says Lederman, author of the forthcoming book, Swing Shift: The Ups &
Downs of Parenting a Bipolar Child.
Previously known as manic-depression, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder
marked by extreme changes in mood, energy levels, and behavior. Although
symptoms typically emerge in adolescence or adulthood, they can be seen in
children as young as 7 or 8, says Robert Kowatch, MD, professor of psychiatry
and pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Until recently, young people were rarely diagnosed with this disorder. Yet
up to one-third of the 3.4 million children and adolescents with depression in
the U.S. may actually be experiencing the early onset of bipolar disorder,
according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Bipolar disorder begins with either manic or depressive symptoms. Like
children with depression, children with bipolar disorder are likely to have a
family history of the illness -- as was the case with Judith Lederman's son.
Her husband's father also suffered from the condition.
The National Mental Health Association lists the following signs and
symptoms and recommends that you seek medical help if you see a child
struggling with any combination of these symptoms for more than two weeks.
Severe changes in mood -- from unusually happy
or silly to irritable, angry, or aggressive.
Unrealistic highs in self-esteem. May feel
indestructible or believe they can fly, for example.
Great increase in energy level. Can go without
sleep for days without being tired.
Excessive involvement in multiple projects and
activities. May move from one thing to the next and become easily
Increase in talking. Talks too much, too fast,
changes topics too quickly, and cannot be interrupted. This may be accompanied
by racing thoughts or feeling pressured to keep talking.
Risk-taking behavior such as abusing drugs and
alcohol, attempting daredevil stunts, being sexually active, or having