Catherine Zeta-Jones checked in for treatment of bipolar II disorder, a disease she may have suffered from since childhood. How do you recognize bipolar disorder in children? Terri Cheney, author of The Dark Side of Innocence, a book on the subject explains.
First, it’s important to understand that even young children can experience episodes of bipolar disorder — what used to be known as manic-depression. More and more are being diagnosed and treated at younger ages — a good thing. Therapy can help entire families figure out how to support a bipolar child and steer away from or minimize situations that have triggered episodes of mood swings in the past.
So how do you even know if your child potentially suffers from depression or, more seriously, bipolar disorder?
Before we get to bipolar symptoms in children, parents might first want to identify whether their child suffers from depression. Symptoms of depression in children are similar to those of adults, according to Cheney:
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness
Symptoms of mania differ, however. The “classic high-flying mania” that shows up in adults may appear more subdued in kids. In children with bipolar or bipolar II disorder, these are some of the warning signs, Cheney writes in a recent essay for Babble:
[C]hildren seem to experience more irritability. They may speak more quickly than usual, their thoughts may seem to race by, and their schemes may be unusually grandiose.
What’s key, however, is a pattern of instability. Does your child repeatedly have ups and downs, accompanied by swings not just in his mood but in his appetite and sleep habits? At first, this might be a little hard to spot, because unlike adults with bipolar disorder, children are more likely to have “rapid cycling,” where they veer from mood to mood very quickly, even in the course of a single day.
Cheney suggests parents who are worried about their children’s mood swings keep a chart to track mood cycling. Or, download an app for mood-tracking that does the same thing.
Above all, Cheney says parents shouldn’t run from this. As a child, she suffered from bipolar disorder but her parents didn’t see the signs or want to see the signs. Parents show know that bipolar disorder can be awful for its adult sufferers and even worse for kids — “intense mood swings, wild and reckless behavior, emotional anguish and suicidality.”
There’s help for everyone — you just have to ask for it, like Catherine Zeta-Jones did.