When Your Kid Has Bipolar - Part II

Ask the Expert Patient Health Guide
  • In my previous post, I recounted Angela's travails concerning her seven-year-old son. The boy attempted suicide twice and engages in self-harm. The provisional diagnosis is bipolar disorder.

    Angela had two posts, spaced a month apart. Her first post drew 48 replies, many of them suggesting other possible alternatives to the bipolar diagnosis. This raised the issue of the complexity of finding a correct diagnosis in kids. Accordingly, Part I of my reply to Angela dealt with some of these diagnostic concerns.

    It was clear that Angela had researched her topic and that she was comfortable in the knowledge that the bipolar diagnosis best explained what was going on with her boy. Moreover, after four months of treatment and counseling, the boy’s condition showed clear improvement.

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    But whether we are adults with the illness or have kids with the illness, there are always other things to look at. Part I looked at those issues.

    Now it’s time, Angela, to focus on the bipolar. You are on a bipolar site, after all. The tenor of your two posts strongly indicated that you are seeking enlightenment on both the illness and how it applies to your boy.

    Here goes:

    As you know, Angela, there is a lot of controversy surrounding diagnosing kids with bipolar. A lot of this stems from legitimate concerns about applying diagnostic and treatment overkill when other solutions may be available.

    Unfortunately, individuals promoting an antipsychiatry agenda have gotten into the act, along with a badly-misinformed media. A lot of these people contend that bipolar in kids does not exist, and that the diagnosis is a big pharma plot to sell more drugs.

    Sadly, Angela, none of this will make your life any easier. Even well-meaning individuals are going to question your judgment and even your parenting skills.

    Be assured, Angela. I’m in your corner. I’ve listened to the people who have pioneered researching early-onset bipolar as well as the real experts - the parents of bipolar kids.

    Believe me, bipolar in kids is real. One doesn’t need to be voting age to have the illness.

    The best advice I can offer you at this early stage is to be thoroughly informed, and you are clearly on the right track. The parents I have talked to invariably know way more than those who treat and counsel their kids.

    As a first port of call, you might want to read the three-part series I wrote on my website, mcmanweb.com:


    It also pays to check out my article on what you need to know about treating kids with psychiatric meds:


    By now, Angela, you are probably familiar with the Papolos book, The Bipolar Child (3rd edition). Two words: Read the book. (Oops, that’s three words.)

    The Bipolar Child put the illness on the map, and is unquestionably the best book available. But more are being published. Just yesterday, in fact, a review copy entitled The Bipolar Teen arrived in the mail ...

  • Another strong recommendation: Check out the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (bpkids.org). As well as a wealth of info, you will be put in touch with the real experts - fellow parents.

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    Now for a declaration of interest: My bipolar did not manifest in full measure until early adulthood. Therefore, I do not have the insight of those who literally had their childhoods hijacked from them.

    From what I understand, early-onset bipolar has a few more wrinkles than adult-onset bipolar. The experts are still coming to terms with this, but the best analogy seems to be that early-onset bipolar is to adult bipolar as juvenile diabetes is to adult diabetes.

    What I did experience as a kid was depression, starting at around age 12. Not enough to attempt suicide and inflict self-harm like your boy, but certainly enough to rob me of a good chunk of my youth.

    I also experienced what the experts call “prodromal” symptoms, the precursor to the illness. Kind of like feeling run-down and having a scratchy throat before a major cold strikes.

    So, even though what I experienced as a kid pales in comparison to what your boy is going through, I can relate. Based on what I went through, I never want to see a kid suffer the way I did.

    Where your boy is much luckier than me is that he has a mother who listens. Nothing against my mother. Back when I was growing up, no one believed that kids could experience depression, much less bipolar. So I was on my own.

    So the prospects for your boy are much better than mine ever were. He has a mother who listens. And you have people who listen to you.

    Yes, there are idiots out there, and you may go crazy banging your head against brick walls, fighting a system that seems designed to make sure your child fails.

    From what I gather in your posts, you have experienced a taste of this, already.

    But be assured. Attitudes are changing. We are getting smarter with our treatments and therapies. Educators are getting on board. You and your child have specific rights.

    And there is a whole community of fellow parents you can draw strength from.
    All the best to you and your family, Angela. You are not alone. You’ve made friends here. Keep checking in, and do keep us posted.

Published On: April 07, 2008