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Bipolar disorder can appear at any age, but it is very rare in children and teens. Bipolar disorder is sometimes called manic depression. It is an illness that causes extreme mood changes. Moods go from times of very high energy to times of depression. These moods may cause problems with your child's schooling, family life, friendships, and ability to function.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder. But it can be helped with medicines. Counselling may also help. It is important for your child to take any medicines exactly as prescribed, even when they feel well. Your child may need lifelong treatment.
Experts don't fully understand what causes bipolar disorder. But they believe many factors may be involved. It seems to run in families. Your child has a greater risk of having bipolar disorder if a close family member has it.
Bipolar disorder can be related to genetics or an imbalance in your child’s hormones. Negative experiences, unsafe or unstable environments, and stressful life events (trauma) can also increase the chances of developing bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder causes cycles of mania and depression. Mania is a period of an extremely happy, irritable, or angry mood. Your child may need little sleep and talk very fast. During a depressive episode, your child may have a sad, low, or cranky mood. Your child may have low energy.
There is no lab test that can diagnose bipolar disorder. Doctors make the diagnosis by asking questions about health problems your child and family members have had. The doctor will ask questions about your child's feelings and behaviour. Your child will also get a physical exam.
Diagnosing bipolar disorder can be a long process that involves careful monitoring and ruling out other explanations. But it’s important to identify the right diagnosis as this helps your child or teen’s healthcare team communicate and plan the right treatment together. If you are worried that your child might hurt themself, take steps to make sure they are safe, like asking for help or calling a suicide crisis centre. Keep the number for a suicide crisis centre on or near your phone. Visit Talk Suicide Canada to find support in your area. In Alberta, support is available by phone:
Bipolar disorder can be managed. Treatment may vary depending on how bad the condition is and your child's age, medical history, and tolerance to medicine. It usually includes medicines (such as mood stabilizers) and counselling. Often a combination of both is needed. To help at home, see that your child gets exercise and has a regular sleep schedule. If your child shows dangerous behaviour, he or she may need to go to the hospital.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also important. Eat healthy foods, have regular routines, and set good habits like regular exercise and managing stress. Join a support group to meet other people who may being experiencing similar concerns. These activities can keep your child motivated and can help to manage their condition better. Caregivers also experience a lot of stress and emotional challenges. Concerns about their loved one's health can make caregivers forget to take care of themselves. As a caregiver, be mindful of your needs and seek help as needed.
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Your child's risk for bipolar disorder or other mood disorders is higher if the child:
Bipolar disorder causes cycles of mania and depression.
A manic episode lasts at least a week. It's a period of being extremely happy, irritable, or motivated. The child or teen may:
A depressive episode is a period of a sad, low, or cranky mood. The child or teen may:
Bipolar disorder can include both manic and depressive episodes. Often the first signs of bipolar disorder are being severely moody, unhappy, or depressed.
Children and teens having a manic episode may:
Children and teens having a depressive episode may:
Watch for warning signs of suicide. This can include preoccupation with death or suicide or a recent breakup of a relationship. If you notice any signs that your child may hurt themselves, get help right away.
Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:
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If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away.
Consider saving these numbers in your phone.
Call a doctor now if:
Seek care soon if:
It's best to build a long-term relationship with your child's care providers. Then when a depressive or manic episode occurs, the care providers can recognize the changes in the child's behaviour and provide quick treatment advice.
If you are a family member of a child with bipolar disorder, it's very important to get the support and help you need. Living with or caring for someone who has bipolar disorder can really disrupt your own life. Manic episodes can be extra tough. It may help to seek your own counsellor or therapist to support you.
Also, some national support organizations may have a local chapter in your area or provide information online. Examples of such groups include the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada.
There is no lab test that can diagnose bipolar disorder. Doctors work with other healthcare professionals and service providers to make the diagnosis through a combination of:
The doctor may do other tests (such as a blood test) to rule out other health problems.
The mood changes that come with bipolar disorder can be a challenge. But with the right treatment, they can be managed. Treatment usually includes medicines (such as mood stabilizers) and counselling. Often a combination of both is needed.
Treatment options include:
Counselling works best when symptoms of bipolar disorder are controlled with medicines.
Learning as much as you can about bipolar disorder may help you recognize mood changes in your child as they start to occur. Catching and treating these mood changes early may help reduce the length of the manic or depressive episode and improve the quality of your child's life.
Here are some steps you can take at home to reduce your child's symptoms and manage your child's moods.
Keep your child's room quiet. And have your child go to bed at the same time every night.
You may need to find ways to help your child reduce school requirements during times of severe mania or depression.
During a depressive episode, your child may feel like doing only gentle exercises, such as taking a walk or swimming.
Try to avoid beverages that contain caffeine, including coffee, tea, colas, and energy drinks. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that children and teens not drink energy drinks. footnote 1
Don't let your child use alcohol or drugs. Substance use disorder makes bipolar disorder worse.
Medicines most often used to treat bipolar disorder in children and teens include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.
Before prescribing medicine to treat bipolar disorder, your child's doctor will ask questions about possible suicidal behaviour.
When you and the doctor are deciding which types of medicines to use, think about:
Counselling along with medicine can work well to manage bipolar disorder. Types of counselling include:
CitationsCanadian Paediatric Society (2017). Energy and sports drinks in children and adolescents. Available online: https://cps.ca/en/documents/position/energy-and-sports-drinks. Accessed November 10, 2021.
Adaptation Date: 11/23/2023
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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