Your child or teen frequently seems despondent, disconnected and fatigued, but may also suddenly become inexplicably high-spirited, talkative, easily distracted and reckless. Is it just the normal ups and downs of being a kid, or could it be Bipolar Disorder? Bipolar Disorder is a serious medical illness that's characterized by dramatic mood swings between what's referred to as "poles" of mania and deep depression, which is why it's often referred to as "manic depression." Symptoms of mania typically include extreme mood swings that may range from behavior that's extremely silly or happy, to abnormal agitation, anger and aggressiveness. The "manic" phase of Bipolar Disorder may also include increased talkativeness and energy, accompanied by a markedly decreased need for sleep. Manic symptoms in teenagers with Bipolar Disorder may also include a variety of risky behaviors, such as abusing alcohol or drugs, and engaging in promiscuous sex. The depressed phase of Bipolar Disorder typically includes symptoms such as persistent sadness, crying, irritability and fatigue. Your child or teen may also show a loss of enjoyment in their favorite activities, and frequently complain of physical ailments, such as headaches and stomachaches. Other symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, considerable changes in eating, and sleeping patterns, hypersexual behavior, feelings of worthlessness and a possible preoccupation with thoughts of death or suicide. Most people with Bipolar Disorder develop the illness in their late teens or early adulthood, but it may occur in children as young as preschool age. When young people develop the illness, it's called early onset Bipolar Disorder. The various mood swings accompanying Bipolar Disorder are called "episodes." Young people may experience both manic and depressive episodes, as well as "mixed" episodes that include a combination of manic and depressive symptoms. It's believed young people experience MIXED episodes more frequently than adult sufferers. Bipolar Disorder symptoms are typically MORE frequent and intense in young people than in older teens and adults. An episode may continue for a week or longer, but it's NOT uncommon for young people to cycle through manic and depressive periods in the same day. Researchers believe Bipolar Disorder has a significant genetic component, based on studies suggesting having a parent with Bipolar Disorder carries a 15-25 percent risk of developing the illness. The risk increases to 50-75 percent when BOTH parents have Bipolar Disorder. There is also an increased likelihood of developing Bipolar Disorder for children who have anxiety disorders, as well as for children who have a family history of drug or alcohol abuse. To minimize the effects of the illness, experts advise early intervention and treatment for young people with Bipolar Disorder. Untreated, the illness may put your child or teen at risk for serious behavior problems, trouble at school, substance abuse, self-harm and even suicide. While there is no cure for Bipolar Disorder, it can be treated effectively, typically with mood-stabilizing medication, psychotherapy and educating both the child and family about the illness. Good nutrition, regular sleeping patterns and exercise are also advised for young people with Bipolar Disorder. If you believe your child or teen has Bipolar Disorder, please see a mental health professional.
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012