One would be alarmed to hear that an incidence of childhood illness increased 4,000% in 9 years. According to Washington Times Communities, the diagnosis of Pediatric Bipolar Disorder (PBD) increased that much from 1994 to 2003, and they believe that cases of the illness are still rising.
Currently, PBD is not in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the current guide to mental disorders. PBD is, however, an accepted diagnosis by many psychiatrists and doctors who see the need for it. There are certain criteria they use to diagnosis this illness.
If a child or adolescent demonstrates "more than a few" of these behaviors, and the parent or caregiver realized something is wrong, it is possible that the child could have Pediatric Bipolar Disorder.
-extreme, recurring depression and sadness; disinterest in playing, talking about wanting to die or kill someone else
-explosive anger (especially after age 4); extreme hostility, irritability, and dangerous or risky behavior
-intense separation anxiety, trouble sleeping, racing thoughts, and rapid, pressured speech; also unusual silliness
-grandiosity, delusions, or hallucinations, bossing authority figures, and age inappropriate sexual behaviors, hearing voices that speak of harming others
-compulsive creativity, cravings for particular objects or food, excessivemulti-tasking, and creative projects that depict graphic, over-the-top violence
PBD is often confused with ADHD, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, PTSD, or depression. In order for PBD to be a consideration, the patient must have episodes of mania and depression with specific duration. Patterns of sleep, energy, and activity levels help doctors determine this. Family history is also an important factor.
Children with PBD often have family histories that include mood disorders or substance abuse, and many times both are prevalent. If even one parent is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the child's chance of having the disorder is significantly increased.
Research shows that those with childhood and adolescent onset of bipolar disorder experience more severe symptoms. Children tend to not only have more severe symptoms, but they also cycle between mania and depression more frequently. They are also generally "sicker" than those with adult onset. Another study showed that one-third of PBD participants had made at least one suicide attempt. One survey revealed that two-thirds of adults with bipolar disorder believe their symptoms started in adolescence or even childhood.
Therapy is often recommended for PBD, along with mood stabilizing and psychotropic medications. Many of these medications come with some serious side effects and can present long-term health risks. Many can cause weight gain. Some are linked to later onset of diabetes and metabolic problems. Another possible side effect of many of the medications used to treat PBD can cause tardive dyskinesia, which causes involuntary, repetitive muscle movements, much like a "twitch," that can interfere with daily functioning. This condition can become permanent.
The PBD diagnosis has opponents. They find it difficult to believe that so many more children are thought to be mentally ill than 15 years ago. They argue that 80% of the world's Ritalin prescriptions were written in the United States, and over 200,000 of our children are taking anti-psychotic medications. Environmental toxins and diets heavy in sugary and processed foods could be a viable reason for increased mood swings in children.
On a personal note, I have a friend who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was in early adolescence. She often finds it difficult to control her symptoms, even when she is vigilant about monitoring her health. She still has rather frequent episodes of both mania and depression. She also has a little boy. He, too, was diagnosed at the age of 6. His mood swings are obvious many times, and the two of them often struggle with this disorder. I think that family history plays a huge role in PBD, affecting both the age of onset and severity of symptoms.
Photo courtesy of Washington Times Communities.
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