Mental Health Disorders and Special Needs Students: Bipolar Disorder

Mental Health Disorders and Special Needs Students: Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (also called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a serious illness of the brain that causes people to go through unusually strong mood changes. Bipolar disorder is not the same as the normal ups and downs every child experiences. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar mood swings are more extreme and can be accompanied by changes in sleep, energy level, and the ability to think clearly. with The onset of bipolar disorder for most people occurs during their early adult years. However, children can also develop it, and the symptoms can be so strong, they can make it hard for a child to do well in school, or even get along with friends and family.

bipolar in childhood

What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Children with bipolar disorder can cycle through both manic episodes and depressive episodes. Each mood episode may last a week or even longer, or a child may go from manic to depressive all in one day. During a manic episode, children feel very excited and overactive, and act much more energetic and sillier than usual. Children experiencing a manic episode also may:

  • Have a very short temper
  • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
  • Not feel tired, and have trouble sleeping
  • Have trouble staying focused
  • Talk and think about sex more often
  • Do risky things

During a depressive episode, children feel very sad and are much less active than usual. Children having a depressive episode also may:

  • Complain about pain a lot, such as stomach aches and headaches
  • Sleep too little or too much
  • Feel guilty and worthless
  • Eat too little or too much
  • Have little energy and no interest in fun activities
  • Think about hurting themselves, including death or suicide

Diagnosing Children with Bipolar Disorder

Children with extreme mood swings should get professional medical treatment, but diagnosing bipolar disorder in children is difficult because it may appear to be attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or even just normal childhood behavior.

Pay close attention and track your child’s mood and activity changes so you can chart and explain how they are different from their usual behaviors, and from the behavior of other children. 

It can sometimes take months of tracking the child's mood swings before a proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be made. But once the doctor, such as a Child Psychiatrist makes the diagnosis, there are several medications that can help.

How to Help Children with Bipolar Disorder

Follow the medication schedule EXACTLY. Work with the child’s caregivers and team at school to make sure that she gets the prescribed medication at the correct time.

Monitor side effects. Children seem to be more prone to side effects from the drugs used to treat bipolar disorder. Ask your child's doctor what symptoms to watch for, and pay very close attention for signs of them.

Keep a routine. Children with bipolar disorder benefit from a daily schedule that helps them to reduce stress. Support them to wake up, eat meals, exercise, and go to bed at the same time each day.

Take suicidal threats seriously. If your child ever expresses a desire to die, or engages in life-threatening behavior, don't ignore it.

Get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Also remove any weapons or dangerous drugs from the house.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder. However, once the illness is identified, children, families, and school staff can work together to manage symptoms, develop coping strategies, plan educational modifications, and help the child lead a successful life.

Request a Tour of The Gateway School

Since 1980, RKS Associates has been a leader in providing the needs of special education students and helping children grow to their fullest potential. Each of our schools seeks to empower each student with skills for life, work, and recreation; we believe that every individual possesses the dignity and potential to contribute to a better world.

As part of the RKS Associates Network of schools in New Jersey, the goal at the Gateway School is to assist all students in becoming as independent as possible and help them get ready for the future. Located in Carteret, NJ, we serve individuals throughout Central and Northern New Jersey. Contact us at our main office at 732.541.4400 with any questions or schedule a private tour of the Gateway School today.

Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ