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Bipolar Disorder In Kids

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Depressive Symptoms continued...

Researchers at Ohio State University are looking into other treatment options in two new studies, one funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the other by the Ohio Department of Mental Health.

The researchers are studying a promising new treatment called psychoeducation that they believe can help children with early-onset bipolar disorder and their families.

Though there have been a few studies evaluating medication in children, none has examined psychosocial treatments, says Mary Fristad, PhD, leader of the studies and a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State.

"Medications are vital for helping children with bipolar disorder, but they can't do everything," says Fristad.

"If you have your first mood disorder as an adult, you have already learned a lot of coping skills that can help you, such as how to hold a conversation and how to treat friends," says Fristad. "But when you get a mood disorder as a child, you often have never had a chance to develop these interpersonal skills. We help kids 'catch up' with these skills, which in turn helps them manage their symptoms."

While acknowledging that bipolar disorder in children does indeed exist, Barry Cohn Markell, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Park Ridge, Ill., adds a note of restraint. "It's talked about more, but it's still very rare." (According to Kowatch of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, approximately 1% of children in the general population suffer from bipolar disorder.)

Cohn Markell is concerned that an inaccurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder can "label" a kid for life. "Many of the symptoms that are listed for bipolar disorder can be caused by other things from abuse and neglect to physical illnesses such as epilepsy, encephalitis, brain tumor, or head injury."

When parents bring a child with severe mood swings to him, Cohn Markell learns about the child's environment -- by observing the child himself and/or by giving the parents and teachers an observational scale ("If the behavior isn't the same at home and at school, then something else might be going on," he says). He also takes a history to determine how long the symptoms have been present and refers the child to a pediatrician to rule out physical illness.

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