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CHILDHOOD ONSET BIPOLAR
Bipolar disorder is a biological brain disorder causing severe fluctuations in mood, energy, thinking and behavior. Previously known as manic depression, and thought to be found in adults only, it is now recognized as being prevalent in children too. Children suffering from the disorder were and are, too commonly diagnosed as having ADHD, and are being treated for that. Depression is also commonly misdiagnosed in the bipolar child, but that is a unipolar condition. These mis-diagnoses often result in the child being incorrectly medicated. The correct medication can help the child to live a relatively normal life.
Children, whose symptoms appear very differently from those of adult bipolar sufferers, usually present with severe and sudden mood changes throughout the day. Signs of mania and depression can occur simultaneously, or one immediately after the other. Children and teenagers with bipolar disorder are often very anxious and have a low frustration tolerance. Most young children in South Africa, suffering from bipolar disorder, still remain undiagnosed and untreated. This can result in school failure, drug abuse, increased sexual risk and of course suicide. Many families are broken apart because of the mood disorder being undiagnosed. Having a child correctly diagnosed at an early age with the consequent treatment, can avoid to a great degree, the risks prevalent in the disorder. Statistically it is found that more young people are lost to suicide than to childhood cancers.
The bipolar child will of course present with aspects of ADHD and because it is commonly known, it is easier to diagnose the latter disorder. The bipolar child, though, will have many added symptoms, and one thing common in the disorder is to ask yourself the question "Does my child display certain unusual and strange behavior in my presence, but not in front of others?" this can be a strong indication for diagnosis. For an unknown reason, the child will display most or all of the symptoms to a parent, but not to anyone else. To family, friends, school teachers and such, the bipolar child may come across as being a rather obnoxious child, but he/she is understood as being rude and unmannered. The child could even be considered to be well mannered towards a teacher but be a bit of a bully to other kids. The parent though, will see all of it, and just know that it is unusual and frustrating. It is common for the parent to question their own parenting skills, and in fact, family and friends - including some professionals- will indeed encourage you to improve your own skills!
Unfortunately, the bipolar child is not entirely responsible for their behavior.There is far too much going on in these little minds, and any form of strict discipline is reacted upon in completely the opposite way you would expect. You will commonly find that discipline results in an episode of defiance or even severe depression, and at its worst an outburst of extreme rage.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder at this time, and it is commonly accepted that a genetic link is present. Go back into your ancestry and ask yourself if you know of anyone who had a psychiatric disorder. Whilst we do not advocate any medication, and many people prefer to ride it out and use alternative methods, we have on hand information provided by our psychiatrist, which was required for a court hearing. The words he used are:
" It must be emphasized here that the need for medication is of paramount importance as the bipolar child can NOT exercise the necessary control over their outbursts. The purpose of medication is not to drug the child, but to permit him/ her to achieve the desired control over rage attacks, improve self image and overall to improve most, if not all of the symptoms they display"
We have found this, in our own situations, to be true. Whilst so many symptoms still exist and present themselves daily, the improvement has changed our lives, and helped our daughters to live a better, more well rounded life.