Great question, mom. The answer is yes. Yes, it is possible he has bipolar disorder. And yes, it is possible this is normal behavior.
As I noted in Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder – Beyond Obscurity, the number of children tagged with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder has increased exponentially over the last 10 years. The medical community now generally accepts that kids develop this disorder.
So should you consider scheduling an appointment for your child to be evaluated by a psychiatrist? Consider three basic rules of thumb: functioning, feeling and family.
- Functioning – Are the problem behaviors of your child interfering with his daily functioning? Is your son able to play with other children his age? Is your child able to attend school regularly?
What about family functionality? Do the demands of your son’s difficulties outweigh the needs of other members of the family or even you? In her book "Mommy I’m Still in Here," author Kate McLaughlin shares the toll her daughter’s illness took on her family. “Taking care of her took most of my time, leaving little one-on-one with Michael and Monica (her other two kids). They felt ignored, lost in the shuffle … We lived our lives around an illness.”
Feeling – Does your child feel like there is something wrong with her? Does he feel overwhelmed handling normal activities other kids his age engage in? Does your child worry about things other kids don’t even think about?
Family – Is there a history of mental illness in your child’s family? Research indicates that as many as 10% of those with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder will also develop bipolar disorder. Studies have also demonstrated that family members with both schizophrenia and unipolar depression are commonly found in the same family tree as those with bipolar disorder (Maier et al, 2005).
If your child is having difficulty with daily functioning or if your child is struggling with feeling normal -- most especially over an extended period of time -- then an evaluation by a psychiatrist may be warranted. If you answer yes to either of the first two rules of thumb and you have a family history of mental illness, an unbiased, professional opinion could bring you some peace of mind and perhaps a few new parenting skills.
Now, with all of this said, please be aware that even with all three rules of thumb checked off, your child might not actually have bipolar disorder. In Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder - The Book, the Controversy and the Reality, I shared my personal experience about having to make the decision to take my son to a psychiatrist and his subsequent diagnosis -- not bipolar disorder.
There are a number of Challenges in Diagnosing Childhood Onset Bipolar Disorder.
Maier, W., Hofgen, B., Zobel, A. and Rietschel, M. (2005). Genetic models of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder:Overlapping inheritance or discrete genotypes? European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 255, 159–166.
McLaughlin, K.L. (2007). Mommy I’m still in here: One family’s journey with bipolar disease. California: Behler Publications.