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Children and Bipolar Disease

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Biology 103
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Children and Bipolar Disease

Heather Price

For the past 11 years I have been working with children at my church, and I have found it disturbing that for the past several years, the number of students we have had with major learning disabilities has skyrocketed. We had a range of students with a wide range of problems, from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to attention-deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD), from conduct disorder (CD) to oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD). Eventually, out of every five children that we had, one of them had some form of learning disability. Though almost all of these children were undergoing some form of treatment or therapy, there were a few that never seemed to get better. One student in particular, seemed to get worse as he received more treatment. At first he was diagnosed with ADHD because he could not concentrate on one particular task. However, when he started receiving treatment for ADHD (including a heavy dose of Ritalin), his behavior became more erratic and at times, violent. Then he was diagnosed with ODD, however the same problem occurred when he started his treatment. Finally, this spring, he was diagnosed as Bipolar, and now that he is receiving the right treatment, he can finally live a somewhat normal life.

It is now estimate that upwards of one million children in the United States are suffering from early onset bipolar disorder, and that more than half are not getting the proper help that they need (1). Though this statistic may be somewhat shocking, it is also evidence of a well needed change in the way we think about bipolar. Originally, it was thought that bipolar was strictly an adult disease. Children with bipolar were always labeled with learning disabilities and often as simply "bad kids," when in reality these children are suffering from serious and frightening disease. Bipolar in children is becoming more common in children, and is only being researched. As these researchers learn more about these children, they are realizing that this disorder is even more frightening in children.

"Typically adults with bipolar disorder have episodes of either mania or depression that last a few months and have relatively normal functioning between episodes, but in manic children we have found a more severe, chronic course of illness. Many children will be both maniac and depressed at the same time, will often stay ill for years without intervening well periods and will frequently have multiple daily cycles of highs and lows. These findings are counterintuitive to the common notion that children would be less ill than their adult counterparts," states Barbara Geller, MD, head researcher from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (2).

This rapid cycling is what has made it hard for doctors to associate these children with bipolar disorder instead of typical hyperactive disorders.

Another major problem with bipolar disorder in children is that no clear treatment path has been established. While it is known that medicines used for hyperactive children does not work at all and can actually make the disorder work, it is not known how other medications affect the bipolar child. Lithium, traditionally used on most adult patients dealing with the disorder, has only been successful with a small number of bipolar children. Mood stabilizers are much more effective in children, but because there are so many varying types, it takes a long time to find the "right" drug for the child. These "stabilizers" are only half of the drug cocktail these children need though. There is also the need for an anti-depressant that will not send these kids flying into mania, and they also need a medication that calms their manic rampages with out sending them into a nasty depression (3).

Many people are now saying that these children simply need psychotherapy and that overmedicating the child is worse than the actual disease. However, it is shown that if the child is not medicated, most therapy is wasted and has no value in for that child in the long run because they are unable to process it due to the disorder itself. Also, if the child goes on completely un-medicated, he or she can develop much more serious symptoms later on such as delusions, hallucinations, borderline personality, narcissism or antisocial personality (3). With the threat of failing in school and even suicide, the need for medication is incredible.

I guess the question that follows this research is how we find the right balance for our children between medication and therapy that allows them to get the most out of their lives. As of now there is not even a test to properly diagnose these children with bipolar because the standard adult test often does not apply to them because of the rapidness of their cycling. More research must be done to ensure these children a more normal life because with the genetic nature of bipolar disorder, this disease is only going to spread further and effect more people who will need this help.



1)Time Magazine Homepage, an article on children with bipolar disorder
2)"Child Psychiatry Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis Report Bipolar Disorder in Children Appears More Severe than in Most Adults."
3)Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation Homepage

Comments made prior to 2007
If possible, could you update the following link?
3) Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation Homepage
It should be:
3)Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation Homepage ... Shira Raider, 20 March 2006



I enjoyed your article and it weighed heavily on my heart. My 11 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with biopolar disorder. She is severely disabled by this disease. She is so newly diagnosed they haven't been able to stabilze her yet. As her mother, I am dumb struck by all of this. The meds they have tried have sent her into a terrible manic state that it frightens me. Your article appears that you wrote about my daughter personally. I wish you knew her and could help her ... Karen Hurbrough, 5 October 2006


kay's picture

how to get child tested ?

How do you get a child tested for this disease? I'am starting to think this might be my boyfriends grandsons problem. He is so mean. He is 3 and has a sister 10 months old and he is always trying to harm her or himself. When we disipline him he becomes combative and sometimes will bang his head on a wall, floor or anything close by even his sisters forehead or he will try to attack us. He has had an MRI and showed nothing was wrong. His father has some of the same problems with his temper, not able to hold a job for more than a month at a time and is why his parents are going through a divorce right now. How can I be sure this might be his problem without offending the family? I dread it when I know they are coming over because it means I have to be on gaurd at all times. The baby seems to be very good for a baby then again she is only 10 months. Thanks for any help, Kay

Sharen Frith's picture

Most of these sound like my 8

Most of these sound like my 8 yr. old grandson. Along with threatening to kill everyone in the family and/ or burn the house down. (Which he has tried) What more can we do? He is on meds for ADHD and he has OCD.

Anonymous's picture


There is only one true problem child in my family. I am not giving up on him. Rates of alcoholism would equal 4 out of seven people in ratio, bipolar disorder, out of 3 out of 15 people. Ok--well here we go.

All three alcoholics have been sober for 40, 25 and 20 years. Explain that.

Both bipolars are stable. Both hold jobs. One is married and has two children. Explain that. The second bipolar was a PROBLEM CHILD.

The three alcoholics, two of whom were drug addicts, have or had these jobs:
Civil Engineering professor
Administrative Assistant/IS specialist (helped to paint a cat when she was little/problem teenager)
Instructor of English, University of MS online-He speaks Chinese and also is the father of two children--OH, AND HE WAS A PROBLEM CHILD WHOM THEY THOUGHT WAS RETARDED.
Civil Engineer-hydrologist, used to drop acid, problem teen-QUIT COLD TURKEY, CLOSET SOBER FROM DRUGS FOR 30 YEARS

I knew a man with Asperger's. He's a little bit rude, but he writes like Earnest Hemingway. He was able to hold down a job and he was respected for his writing.

So, not every problem child or problem teen gets pushed to the wayside. Some of us do make it. Two of us in my family are special ed children. My husband was in special ed. He's gifted. He can take computers from the side of the road and go to Circut City and make a whole new computer. Oops--he was a problem child.

In a certain town in Mississippi the Alternative School produces reformed children who go out into the community and become police officers, coaches, mechanics and productive members of society. Wonder why. Maybe just maybe someone believed in them and helped them to control their anger and control their impulses and to use the talents God gave them. Thank God my mother never believed the educators when they said that Christopher couldn't make it.....a man who has seen Western Mongolia, broken bread with Slavs and speaks Mandarin as good as his wife does. He was disobedient, stubborn, mean, possibly violent at times, but mom didn't give up on him........He is who he is today because mom knew better. Dad knew better than to give up or to ostracize him. Thank God that there are people out there who know how to reach a child and give him or her a chance.

Catherine Horn
Bipolar Mixed

Anonymous's picture

RE: Not all "crazy children" wind up with ruined lives

In my family, the madness rate is at about 45%. In my family, we have professors, lawyers, civil engineers, clerks, teachers, artists, ballroom dancers and administrative assistants. One bipolar in my family is an organ player and music teacher. The professor has been sober from alcoholism for 40 years. The instructor has been free from drugs and alcohol for 25 years. The cocaine addict, the administrative assistant, has been cocaine free for 20 years. The mild depressive, the civil engineer has never had to be medicated and has quit cigarettes and alcohol cold turkey. The oldest has anxiety, but she witnessed 9-11 for herself. Then, there is me, and I am a clerk. I have bipolar disorder. The instructor and I both were labled "problem children." The instructor is a successful father of two and he speaks fluent Chinese. He lives in a 100,00 dollar house with his Chinese wife, who is obsessive compulsive and anxious. She is high functioning and she makes a lot of money as a computer programmer for International Paper.

I was a problem child, but I was never violent. Keep in mind that I have bipolar-mixed. I yelled, but I did not bite, kick or hit as a child. I was very verbal and I also had music as a coping mechanism. I was in special education, but I still have a Bachelor's in Social Work. I have been married for 9 years and we are very much in love. I do have an older daughter, and she is normal. I let my ex husband raise her. She is now with my sister. I have sense. I have a 40 hour a week job. I don't drink. I am also a singer and I sing in Sweet Adelines. I am one of their main leads. I have also been asked to sing the National Anthem and am very similar in musical talent to the cousin who plays the organ.

The first and only "problem case" of any severity has JUST come to the fore, and that is my son. Note that my first child is normal. Note that my son has two areas of giftedness: one area is spatial IQ and the other area is in creativity and the arts. If I can get him on the proper medication and with patient people, he will turn out like the rest of us. He will read his Rudyard Kipling and his Shakespeare. He will translate Russian or speak Chinese or perform or paint or dance like the rest of us do. I do not ever give up on my genome just because we are mad. I embrace my madness and I look for ways of coping with my frustrations.

The instructor, civil engineer and executive assistant painted a cat when they were little. The civil engineer once dropped acid way back in the 1970's, and she was a teenager. We are prone to bisexuality, but we do not practice it. Our rates of matrimony are high and we have been married for 25, 20, and 14 and 9 years respectively. The worst of us do overcome our madness and the best of us come to grips with parts of themselves which are mad. We are proud. We are mad. Some of us were problem children. Others of us were problem teenagers--promiscous, with drugs and drinking. And yet, here we are, with children, with careers and with lives. We did not go into gently that good night. We stood tall. We perservered. We worked our treatments and our programs. We do not give up; we do not let our labels define us. We are all in all, Mad Pride.

Anonymous's picture

Child Bi-Polar

My grandson has been diagnosed with bi-polar, type I mixed with Psychotic features ,adhd,odd,impulse control disorder-clearly the impulsive/aggressive type and possibly of the sexually precocious subtype, anxiety disorder, relational problems, phonological disorder, learning disorder and impulsive, imature, hostile, paranoid and aggressive traits. He was diagonised with these when he went for two weeks in a mental hospital. He is 11-years old and has been on medications since he was 5. Presently he is on Depakote 250mg in the am and 500mg in the pm. He also takes Zolft 25mg in the am and Ambilify 10mg in the pm. He was put on medication for his ADHD and it made him very aggressive. We have been having a lot of problems with his behavior at school and at home.
He grabbed a teacher by her arm and was brought to jail when he was 10yrs old. He can't keep his hands to himself and wants all the attention at school on him. He is presently in a school for children with behavior problems and was sent home for 2 days because he had a fight with a girl on the school bus. We are at our wits end. I have custody of him since he was 4 years old. The school does't know what to do any more. They have never had a child like my grandson. He can not make friends and feels isolated. I'm afraid his self esteem is very low. Could you please show me the way to go next. He is seeing a psychiatrist and a consuler and I have done eveything in my power to help him.

Anonymous's picture

Dear God Help Parents and Step Parents of Bi-Polar Children

Wow... I wish I could help you. I wish I could tell you that someone will help you. In my experience, there is little help to be had. I will tell you my story.

I had to make some hard choices. My husband had to make some harder ones.

5 years ago I married a guy with 4 kids with various levels of mood disorders ranging from mild depression to asbergers to full blown severe bi-polar disorder in the youngest child. I thought I was tough, I thought I could handle it. My husband is a UPS driver and he works until 8:00 PM every night. I was an IT professional but I am not anymore. Every time one of the kids would blow up (daily) someone had to either leave work to care for them or stop the fit or talk to cops or whatever... I lost three good jobs because the man just would not come home from work and take care of his very emotionally impaired children. The bio-mother at the time was "on a long vacation".

My husband lied to himself on a daily basis that "it wasn't that bad". Total denial. The teachers would call, they would tell him about the behavior. He was convinced they were just going to "grow out of it".

One day three months after my loss of job three...(about 18 months ago, I quit that one because I didn't want to get fired) the little one blew up for the last time.

The kid told me to go to hell after he had completly destroyed his room (again - time 55) and then jumped on his dads lap and acted like he had won a victory.

It was at that moment in time I realized that I had been sitting in a corner curled up in my recliner for 3 months - afraid to leave the house. The last couple of years of "the insanity around me" made me want to give up and die. I couldn't take one more call from the school, I wasn't calling the police again, I was done. I was ready to go on welfare with my very normal son, I was ready to do anything - even move into a homeless shelter to get away from them.

My husband took the children to live with their mother. I told him they weren't my responsibilty, they never should have been my responsibility. He had no right to dump the problems with those kids on me. I paid for it with the loss of three jobs. He still has his job. He has his freedom, he has his pension. I am very bitter about this. He created a situation where I lost the jobs and then he bitched because I wasn't bringing tons of money into the house like I was when we got married.

The bio mother of the children has a bi-polar disorder with physchosis. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, my career and life are basically ruined from trying to help their father raise these kids. I am financially ruined, I am professionally ruined. Those kids have not only destroyed my property but have falsely accused me of abusing them, I have had to fight false charges.

I have given up. I am 50 years old, the economy is terrible and I have become somewhat hopeless. They don't live with us anymore but the damage is done. Normal people cannot live with crazy people without having their life permanently impacted by it. I know you love your grandson but the question is, how much do you love yourself?

That was the question I finally had to ask myself. I had to ask myself if I was willing to live in an insane asylum the rest of my life.

I wasn't willing to do it. I wasn't made for this. I had to accept that I am incapable of living with people that act like this.

The kids have now been with their mother for one year. During my husbands visitations with them, I have avoided them completely. I go to a hotel or I stay with a family member while they are here. They are getting older and things have changed. CPS has been visiting their house with the mother weekly to help the mother and the children cope with each other. They have a home therapist and social worker.

They need it - it keeps them safe.

The child with asbergers is now 13 years old, almost 7 feet tall and really scary to be around. The 9 year old with severe bi-polar is drugged to the point of being almost incapacitated. He is so loaded up on Depakote and Rispedone, he can barely breathe. But it must be this way. It rips my soul out to look into his eyes. He's on gut medicine because he vomits constantly from the drugs. If the drugs wear off he is "insane" and violent. To talk to him a lot of the time you would almost think he is normal - then any upset in his environment will set him off. You can't tell him "no". He won't accept it.

The worst part of this for me is my husbands denial. He walks around with false hope believing these children can be saved. He walks around believing they can live normal lives. I know - they will never live a normal life. I know anyone related to them will never live a normal life. I know that my husband will never come to terms with his pain or that they can't be like normal kids or be accepted. If you think your child hurts from the isolation - try to imagine the pain of a proud man. The behavior of these children in public mortifies him, he is ashamed, he is hurting inside. His dignity has been damaged beyond repair.

These boys cannot be without heavy doses of medicine. They are uncontrollable. They are becoming sexually aware and they are - flat out dangerous at times. They are dangerous to themselves and they are dangerous to others. The very nature of this disease dictates they lack impulse control and they "must" have what they want, when they want it. They cannot help this and it could not be more sad or horrible.

What I will tell you is that you didn't do this to him. It's not your fault. I will tell you that you are not alone. I will ask you for the sake of your own sanity to look yourself squarely in the eyes in the mirror and ask yourself if you can take this in the long haul and I will tell you that after 3 years of trying to save people that cant be saved - I gave up. I gave up because I had to give up. I had to give up or I was going to die. My husband gave up because he has no time for them, he never did have time for them. He didn't want to take care of them. He wanted to go to work and let someone else take care of them. He had to make a choice. I wasn't going to clean up his mess anymore. It was either his marriage, 20 years of his life, his pension and career down the drain or send the kids to live with their mom. If mom hadn't been able to take them - they would be in foster care now.

It's almost too much for anyone, it was too much for him. He was not willing to pay the price.

I pray you find peace. I pray you find help or - I pray you have the strength to make a choice you can live with.

Anonymous's picture

Childhood Bi-polar disease

I would like to know if they actually put children under 4 on medications for Bi-Polar disease and if the Dr. determines that she has it strictly based on the 'facts' that a parent tells him?

Colby's picture

bipolar and suicide

I just lost my 15 year old son in March to suicide. He had trouble attending school, became reclusive (not wanting to get involved in any activity, separation anxiety since he was very young, always had been silly, never mean or hurtful. Would be silly/sad all at one time, night terrors, fatigued, impulsive (no drugs or alcohol). All of these symptoms were very confusing. We took him to several therapists only to hear that he was slightly depressed and had mild anxiety. They wanted to put him on anti-depressants at the age of 12. I would not let this happen. A few years later the symptoms my son was having were getting worse and they wanted to try anxiety meds. We did try them but my son didn't like them because of the way they made him feel and stopped taking them. After years of therapy not once was bipolar mentioned and only after his death and my seeking therapy have I come to realize that I believe my son had been suffering with this ailment for many years and no-one knew it. He had all the classic symptoms along with thoughts of suicide. I'm disgusted that the Mental/Doctors didn't even consider the possibility of this disease - I might still have my son if someone would have just realized it isn't a disease that is only affecting adults it is also affecting our children.

meghan's picture

may 25, 2008

i agree that there needs to be something done. i have a five year old daughter who is now living with my mother-in-law because when she has a manic episode, she becomes extremely violent and suicidal. she has attempted to kill my 2 year old, and has pushed me down a flight of stairs sending me to the hospital. my husband and i cannot afford regular counseling, and the counseling she has already received seemed to worsen the situation. we have been seeking help everywhere we can think of for some type of assistance, but no one has yet to help. all i get are a pile of brochures and pamphlets, and a list of websites. my daughter has just begun to have hallucinations, and I'm scared that if she doesn't get medication and more extensive counseling that she will die or she will kill one of us. if anyone has any advice, ideas, or anything please let me know.

Anonymous's picture


Hi there,

i have read your article and the thought of medications frightens me!!!! my husband is suffering from bipolar but is yet to be diagnoised!! i have the feeling my 10 year old son is suffering from this as well as my 2 year old, i haven spoken with his school and they say he has learning difficulties??? but he has more problems than learning difficulties as he drives his 2 older brother round the bend with his silly antics that he is totally unaware off!!! I am taking him for some hypnotherapy to see if that helps!!! fingers crossed!!! will keep you all posted!!! Dawn