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Chances are, you’ve read or heard the term “bipolar” used to describe someone whose moods change rapidly—often rather dramatically, and in a short period of time. It’s important to note that, while all children and adolescents
who have bipolar disorder will have dramatic mood changes, the vast majority of kids experiencing mood changes (even pretty dramatic ones!) do not have bipolar disorder. This distinction can cause confusion for many parents and some clinicians, and we hope the information on these pages will help.
So what does it really mean when someone has bipolar disorder? And what should you do if that person is your child?
Bipolar disorder, which is also known as manic-depressive illness:
In addition, bipolar disorder:
A child or adolescent who has bipolar disorder experiences both manic phases (periods of abnormally high energy, activity and decreased need for sleep) and depressive phases (periods of intense sadness, tiredness, hopelessness or extreme irritability). These periods are known as mood episodes. Sometimes, the manic and depressive symptoms happen at the same time; this is called a mixed mood episode.
While all children (and especially adolescents) experience peaks and valleys in their moods and energy levels, the mood episodes of someone with bipolar disorder are very different:
Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, there are effective, evidence-based treatments that can help.
How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches bipolar disorder
Children’s Hospital Boston has long been at the forefront of providing expert, compassionate care to children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral health issues. As one of the largest pediatric psychiatric services in New England, Children’s has a team of expert psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers ready to help you, your child and your family get the individualized treatment you need to cope with bipolar disorder.
Our Department of Psychiatry team members are leaders in researching, diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder, as well as many other conditions like:
Our approach to all mental health care is evidence-based—which means that our evaluations and treatments have been tested and proven effective through scientific studies, both here at our hospital and by other leading institutions worldwide.
We always begin our care with a careful diagnostic evaluation. Once a clear diagnosis has been made, all of our interventions start with a combination of psychoeducation—the facts you need to understand and actively participate in your child’s care—and “talk therapy” as our primary methods of treatment. Talk therapy focuses on teaching children (and their families) helpful thinking, management and coping skills to overcome symptoms and adopt new, healthier thought patterns and behaviors.
When your child’s specific diagnosis and symptoms warrant it, we might also recommend a psychiatric medication evaluation through our Psychopharmacology Clinic.
Evidence has shown us that a combination of talk therapy and medication therapy is key for children with bipolar disorder. Our recommendations will generally include both of these treatment methods, but will be designed with your child and family’s individual needs and circumstances in mind.
Bipolar disorder: Reviewed by David R. DeMaso, MD, and Stuart J. Goldman, MD
© Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011
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