Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition classified as one of the mood disorders. It causes people to swing from one extreme mood to the other. Sometimes children with bipolar disorder have a manic phase where they feel happy, invincible or high. While other times, they feel extremely sad or uninterested, this is a depressive phase.
Signs of manic episodes include:
- Hyperactivity, restless and impulsive behaviours. They seem to have more energy than usual and struggle to sit still. They jump around and do things without thinking it through.
- The belief that they are superheroes. For example, a child that thinks he is superman may jump from the balcony to fly. If you try to convince them otherwise, they get angry with you.
- Aggressive or violent behaviour. They may start fights with people bigger than themselves.
- Reckless and risky behaviours like drug use, sexual misbehaviour or extravagant spending.
- Rapidly changing interests or new hobbies that they spend unusually long hours doing.
- Reduced need for sleep. They can go for several days without sleeping.
- They keep on talking and find it difficult to stop.
Signs of depressive episodes include:
- Persistent low mood or sadness for at least two weeks.
- Lack of interest in their hobbies or friends.
- Thoughts of suicide or even attempts at harming themselves.
- Loss of appetite or eating substantial amounts of food at once.
- Easily irritated or annoyed.
- Sleeping during the day and/or not sleeping at night.
The following are ways to make life with bipolar disorder easier for your child:
- Speak to a child psychologist: the first visit will help you get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. During the following visits, you want to build a partnership for your child's well-being.
- Take this condition seriously: it is not a curse or a spiritual problem. Bipolar disorder is real, and you should treat it with as serious as physical illness. Learn about this condition to help you care for your child and understand how this condition affects them.
- Monitor their drugs: ensure they are take their medicines as prescribed by your healthcare provider. You may need to give it to them directly even in their teenage years. Keep a diary to record any side-effects of their drugs and their mood changes.
- Therapy can help your child manage reckless behaviour and anger better. They'll learn techniques for calming down too. Family therapy will help you and other family members learn how to care for your child and resolve conflicts.
- Have boundaries: let them know what behaviours are unacceptable and what the consequences of doing these things are. Always wait till the child is calm to deliver these consequences.
- Manage your feelings: caring for a child with bipolar disorder can be both physically and emotionally tasking. You can speak to a therapist or join a support group to help you manage your emotions better.
- Inform your child's siblings: explain why there are differences in how you treat them. Involving them will help prevent feelings of jealousy or resentment between the siblings.
- Inform teachers, school management and other people about your child's condition: this information will allow them to report on your child's mood changes and help to accommodate their needs.
It is possible to manage bipolar disorder well in children with therapy and medications. However, you should know that there is no cure. The treatment is long-term. Ensure that they do not stop their medication suddenly, even when they are doing better. While this condition can run in some families, not all children will have it. It is not contagious and so you should not isolate your child because of their condition. Children with this disorder can go to school, work and live normal lives.