Programs for Education

By Susan Ibarra 

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The Bipolar Child

Bipolar Disorder 

affects everyone in the family

Bipolar disorder Ė once known as manic depression, always known as a ferocious mental illness that affected adultsĖ seems to be showing up in children at an increasing rate and that has taken a lot of mental-health professionals by surprise.  Doctors are looking deeper into the condition to try and understand its underlying causes.  They are coming to the conclusion that large numbers of teens and children are suffering from this condition.  

Bipolar is not an illness that can be allowed to go untreated as the entire family is affected.  Victims of bipolar may have an alcoholism and drug-abuse rate triple that of the rest of the population and experience a higher suicide rate that may approach 20%.  Often the individual will suffer for years before their condition is properly diagnosed, and possibly even longer before it is appropriately treated.  If you donít catch it early on, according to many doctors, it gets worse.  Although it can be devastating when an adult is diagnosed, itís tragic when it affects a child. 

From Bad to Worse

With children, however, things arenít always so clear.  Children with this condition may flit back and forth among mood states several times a day.  In the morning, bipolar children are more difficult to rouse than the average child.  They seem oppositional and resistant.  They may be irritable with a tendency to snap or gripe or they may be sullen and withdrawn.  

By midday the darkness lifts and bipolar children may enjoy a few clear hours, enabling them to focus and take part in school.  By 3 or 4 pm, these kids can become wild, wired or giddy in a strained way.  They may laugh too loudly when something seems funny or go on laughing, long after the joke is over.  Their play can have an aggressive quality.  They may make up stories or insist they have superhuman abilities.  They resist efforts to settle them and may throw tantrums if their needs are denied.  Such wildness can often continue deep into the night. 

If the illness is not identified, the consequences can be severe since bipolar children get worse as they get older.  In school the academic challenges can kick the disorder into overdrive as the child may have difficulty mastering executive functions such as organizing, planning and thinking problems through.  At puberty, the rush-of-hormones make this already difficult situation, worse.

However, as children receive proper diagnosis, appropriately supported with balanced and managed therapies by qualified professionals, including family counseling, they can meet their challenges with success.

Dr. Syeda Hasan, associated with Childrenís Specialized Hospital, has presented the topic of Children with Bipolar and its Diagnosis to parents, teachers and caregivers through Programs for Education sponsored by The CHILD Organization.   Professional development hours are also available for this program.  

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