The Effects of Bipolar Disorder on Children and Their Families

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Varying moods and energy levels have been a part of the human experience throughout history. As time has progressed and these mood changes have been identified as disorders. One example, bipolar disorder is perhaps one of the oldest known diseases. It has grown into one of the most common illnesses that people of every age, culture, and gender must deal with on an everyday basis. In recent times bipolar disorder has become quite prevalent in children and adolescents causing and increased concern and interest in this area.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong mood disorder, characterized by recurrent manic or hypomanic and depressive episodes, (Miller, 2006). It has been know to interfere with cognition and behavior, which ultimately severely impacts relationships with family, friends, employers, etc, (Miller, 2006). There are various symptoms and characteristics that play into a bipolar diagnosis. Each individual may experience very different symptoms depending on their personality and biological makeup. Most commonly bipolar disorder is illustrated by manic episodes associated with “pressured speech, hyperverbosity, physical hyperactivity, agitation, decreased need for sleep, hypersexuality, and/or extravagance,” (Miller, 2006). It is classified into four specific disorders, bipolar disorder I, bipolar disorder II, cyclothymic disorder, and bipolar disorder not otherwise specified. Each form has a variable course, meaning years or months may pass in between episodes. There are four domains of bipolar disorder that have been identified, “manic mood and behavior, dysphoric or negative mood behavior, cognitive symptoms, and psychotic symptoms,” (Miller, 2006). Bipolar disorder has been most commonly found in adults but it is becoming more prevalent in children and sometimes has a different diagnosis.

Pediatric bipolar disorder is defined by “chronic non-episodic, ultra-rapid cycling,” of moods and energy, (Bradfield, 2010). There are numerous possible causes of bipolar disorder but it is important to keep in mind that the right brain structures functions in the regulation of emotion develop in the first 18 months and if something were to go awry during that time it could result in bipolar disorder forming. Children are also predisposed to this disorder based upon parent’s mental health histories. Pediatric bipolar disorder is commonly misdiagnosed due to its definition. Children with this disorder often have mixed dysphoria and lability without discreet episodes. Due to the increased frequency of their mood fluctuations compared to adults, children seemed to be much more impaired. The DSM describes bipolar disorder by distinct episodes of mania or depression whereas pediatric bipolar disorder manifests as a rapid cycle of fluctuating moods, (Bradfield, 2010). Children who have this disorder experience impairment seen at home, in school, and with their peers. Their moods tend to oscillate rapidly from a depressed state to a manic one. These fluctuations can range from “extreme irritability, elation and fatuousness; inflated self-esteem, or grandiosity; increased energy with a decreased need for sleep; increased rate, volume, and quantity of speech; distractibility; hypersexuality; an elevation in the amount of goal directed behavior, and disregard for the dangers of high risk activities,” (Bradfield, 2010). Compared to adults with bipolar disorder, children experience much more high intensity symptoms that vary in extreme ways. Due to such symptoms there are a variety of risk factors.

Bipolar disorder is associated with both high and low risk behaviors and effects. When it comes to low risk factors we deal with more cognitive effects on learning and relationships. Often with bipolar disorder verbal memory and working memory are those most commonly affected and it is believed that neurocognitive impairments might have a larger impact in children than adults, (Horn, 2011). Therefore children are more likely to be effected in...
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