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 brother."
Cyclothymia -- or cyclothymic disorder -- is a relatively mild mood disorder. In cyclothymic disorder, moods swing between short periods of mild depression and hypomania, an elevated mood. The low and high mood swings never reach the severity of major depression or full mania. People with cyclothymic disorder have milder symptoms than occur in full-blown bipolar disorder.
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.