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Childhood Mental Health: Bipolar Depression

Description

Although rare in young children, bipolar disorder , or manic-depressive illness , can appear in both children and adolescents. Bipolar disorder, which involves unusual shifts in mood, energy, and functioning, may begin with either manic, depressive, or mixed manic and depressive symptoms. It is more likely to affect the children of parents who have the disorder. 20 to 40% of adolescents with major depression develop bipolar disorder within 5 years after depression onset.
Existing evidence indicates that bipolar disorder beginning in childhood or early adolescence may be a different, possibly more severe form of the illness than older adolescent- and adult-onset bipolar disorder. When the illness begins before or soon after puberty, it is often characterised by a continuous, rapid-cycling, irritable, and mixed symptom state that may co-occur with disruptive behaviour disorders, particularly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorder , or may have features of these disorders as initial symptoms.

Symptoms and Signs

Symptoms are divided into manic and depressive symptoms.

1. Manic Symptoms

  • Severe changes in mood: either extremely irritable or overly silly and elated.
  • Overly-inflated self-esteem; grandiosity.
  • Increased energy.
  • Decreased need for sleep: ability to go with very little or no sleep for days without tiring.
  • Increased talking: talks too much, too fast; changes topics too quickly; cannot be interrupted.
  • Distractibility: attention moves constantly from one thing to the next.
  • Hypersexuality: increased sexual thoughts, feelings, or behaviours; use of explicit sexual language.
  • Increased goal: directed activity or physical agitation.
  • Disregard of risk: excessive involvement in risky behaviours or activities.

2. Depressive symptoms

  • Persistent sad or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Significant change in appetite or body weight
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Physical agitation or slowing
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of mania and depression in children and adolescents may manifest themselves through a variety of different behaviours.
When manic, children and adolescents, in contrast to adults, are more likely to be irritable and prone to destructive outbursts than to be elated or euphoric.
When depressed, there may be many physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches or tiredness, frequent absences from school or poor performance in school, talk of or efforts to run away from home, irritability, complaining, unexplained crying, social isolation, poor communication, and extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure. Other manifestations of manic and depressive states may include alcohol or substance abuse and difficulty with relationships.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Once the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made, the treatment of children and adolescents is based mainly on experience with adults, since as yet there is very limited data on the efficacy and safety of mood stabilising medications in youth.
The essential treatment for this disorder in adults involves the use of appropriate doses of mood stabilisers, most typically lithium and/or valproate , which are often very effective for controlling mania and preventing recurrences of manic and depressive episodes. Research on the effectiveness of these and other medications in children and adolescents with bipolar disorder is ongoing. In addition, studies are investigating various forms of psychotherapy , including cognitive-behavioral therapy , to complement medication treatment for this illness in young people.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. National Institute of Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov


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  http://www.hon.ch/Dossier/MotherChild/child_mentalhealth/bipolar_depression.html Last modified: Jun 25 2002