Bipolar Disorder in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic depression) is an illness that causes extreme mood changes, from times of very high energy (manic episodes) 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 his or her medicines exactly as prescribed, even when he or she feels well. Your child may need lifelong treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Give your child medicines exactly as prescribed. Do not stop or change a medicine without talking to your doctor first. Your child may need to try different combinations of medicines to find what works best.
  • Give your child's medicines on schedule to keep your child's moods even. When your child feels good, you may think that he or she does not need the medicines, but it is important that your child keeps taking them.
  • Make sure your child goes to his or her counselling sessions. Call and talk with your child's counsellor if your child cannot go to a session or does not think the sessions are helping. Do not just let your child stop going.
  • Have your child get at least 30 minutes of activity on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want your child to do other things, such as running, swimming, or cycling.
  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Keep your child's room dark and quiet, and try to have your child go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Make sure your child eats a healthy diet. A healthy diet includes whole grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and protein. Have your child eat foods from each of these groups.
  • Try to lower your child's stress. Help manage your child's time and help him or her lead a healthy lifestyle. To lower your child's stress, have him or her try physical activity or slow deep breathing.
  • Make sure your child does not use alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • Learn the early signs of your child's mood changes so you can take steps to help your child feel better.
  • Encourage your child to ask for help from friends and family when he or she needs it. Your child may need help with daily chores when he or she is depressed. When your child is manic, he or she may need support to control high energy levels.

What should you do if your child has bipolar disorder?

  • Learn about bipolar disorder and signs that the problem is getting worse.
  • Remind your child that you love him or her.
  • Make a plan with all family members about how to take care of your child when his or her symptoms are bad.
  • Talk about your fears and concerns and those of other family members. Seek counselling if needed.
  • Do not focus attention only on your child who is in treatment.
  • Remind yourself that it will take time for changes to occur.
  • Do not blame yourself for your child's condition.
  • Know your legal rights and the legal rights of your child. Support groups or counsellors can help you with this information.
  • Take care of yourself. Keep up with your own interests, such as your career, hobbies, and friends. Use exercise, positive self-talk, deep breathing, and other relaxing exercises to help lower your stress.
  • Give yourself time to grieve. You may need to deal with emotions such as anger, fear, and frustration. After you work through your feelings, you will be better able to care for yourself and your child.
  • If you are having a hard time with your feelings or with your relationship with your child, talk with a counsellor.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child feels like hurting himself or herself or someone else.
  • Your child displays dangerous behaviour, and you think your child might hurt himself or herself or someone else.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child hears voices.
  • Your child talks about suicide. Keep the number for your nurse call line or your provincial suicide prevention hotline on or near your phone. If a suicide threat seems real, with a specific plan and a way to carry it out, stay with your child, or ask someone you trust to stay with your child, until you can get help.
  • Your child has bipolar disorder and:
    • Starts to give away possessions.
    • Is using illegal drugs or drinking alcohol heavily.
    • Talks or writes about death, including writing suicide notes or talking about guns, knives, or pills.
    • Talks or writes about hurting someone else.
    • Starts to spend a lot of time alone.
    • Acts very aggressively or suddenly appears calm.
    • Talks about beliefs that are not based in reality (delusions).

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child cannot go to his or her counselling sessions.

Where can you learn more?

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