What is pediatric bipolar disorder?
Children with bipolar disorder have severe mood swings, from very high and energized (manic) to very low, unmotivated, and lethargic (depressed). High periods may last only a day or two, but for some, the episodes last a month or more. Low periods usually last longer than high periods.
How common is pediatric bipolar disorder?
About 1 in every 50 children in the United States has some form of bipolar disorder. It most often affects a person for the first time in adolescence or young adulthood.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder in childhood?
Some kids become overly happy and excited or giddy or overly irritable and angry. They may feel like they can do things that no one else can do (grandiosity). They may sleep less than usual or not at all, do many things at once, have more energy, talk faster and express many ideas (some realistic and some unrealistic), and be easily distracted. They may do things that are impulsive when manic, like spend a great deal of money unwisely or drive recklessly.
Kids may experience the symptoms of depression at other times, which can include feeling very sad, down, irritable, or anxious, losing interest in people or things, sleeping too much or being unable to sleep, having little or no appetite, having trouble concentrating or making decisions, feeling fatigued or low in energy, moving or talking slowly, feeling very bad or guilty about themselves, or contemplating suicide or actually carrying out suicide attempts.
Many children with bipolar illness have “mixed” symptoms, in which they feel manic and depressed at the same time. They may feel (or act) irritable, sped up, “tired but wired,” and unable to sleep; at the same time they may feel worthless, have suicidal thoughts, or may lose interest in everything. Some children alternate rapidly between these different extremes of mood. Diagnosis can be challenging, and often requires extended periods of observation to confirm.
How does bipolar disorder affect the family?
Bipolar disorder affects the child’s ability to relate to others in the family or in the school setting, especially when ill. Most commonly, parents and siblings of the bipolar child complain about the child or teen’s irritability, stubbornness, and impulsive outbursts of rage. Some families complain of a “toxic” atmosphere in the household when their child’s mood is cycling. Your family problems may be most apparent during or just after your child or teen’s episode of mania or depression, but then may improve as he or she gets better. The therapy offered through Colorado Family Project involves teaching families how to resolve family conflicts through good communication and problem solving.
What causes bipolar disorder?
Having bipolar disorder means that the child has dysregulations in the emotional regulation “circuitry” of the brain, especially the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Children often inherit these dysregulations from parents or grandparents, even though these relatives may not have the disorder themselves. Children with bipolar disorder are also be affected by life stress or sudden changes in sleep–wake habits.
What kind of treatment is offered through Colorado Family Project?
Children and families who are interested in participating in our research get a diagnostic evaluation first. This usually means two sessions with a psychologist and one with a psychiatrist. After these sessions, we can determine if the family is eligible for our research study. If not, we will provide a set of referrals for outside care.
Eligible families will be assigned randomly (like flipping a coin) to receive: 12 sessions of family therapy; or 3 sessions of family therapy plus 3 individual sessions for the child. Both treatments focus on helping children and their family members to understand and cope with mood swings, develop plans for preventing moods from getting worse, communicate more effectively, and solve family problems.
A participating child may be offered medication treatment if he or she is not already taking medications. The decision to do so is determined by the clinical needs of the child in consultation with his or her parents. Taking medications is not required to participate in the study.
What does the future hold for children with bipolar disorder?
Many children with bipolar disorder have recurrences of mood disorder throughout their lifetimes, but there is every reason to be hopeful. With the help of a regular program of medication, therapy, and support from others, mood disorder episodes become less frequent and less extreme. Our hope is that Colorado Family Project will significantly advance our knowledge of effective diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of serious mood disorders in children and adolescents.