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Family Guidance Blog

7 Ways to Help Children with Bipolar Disorder Succeed in School

9773503_sBipolar disorder is a mental illness that, left unchecked, can create serious issues for children at school. Symptoms of the disorder such as cycling mania and depression coupled with abrupt mood swings make it difficult for children to concentrate and learn. Much like ADHD, which early onset bipolar disorder is often mistaken for, there are many adaptations that can be made to the classroom environment that allow for a more positive learning experience.

According to a recent article outlined at Families.com, parents can ask that the following reasonable adaptations be made to support their child’s learning.

  1. A five minute warning should be provided to children by the teacher prior to switching activities so that they can properly separate themselves from the task at hand.

  2. Children need to receive praise when they are performing as instructed. In this manner, good behavior is supported through positive reinforcement.

  3. Anyone responsible for supplying a child with medication needs to be properly trained and aware of potential side effects.

  4. Frequent meetings with the child’s teacher may be needed to help identify triggers – such as time of day, onset of certain activities, etc. which may activate manic episodes so that outbursts can be minimized.

  5. Suicidal comments or acts of violence should never be ignored or taken lightly. Additionally, parents and the school counselor should always be notified of such incidents.

  6. Parents can request that another adult be made available in the event their child becomes unruly. Plans for how such situations will be handled need to be arranged in advance. One solution might be to create a neutral zone where the child can unwind without disrupting the class. Another might be to have the child walk off frustration or breathe deeply to regain composure.

  7. Teachers need to receive sufficient training on how to support children with bipolar disorder so they know what to expect, what medications the child is taking, and when the parent should receive a phone call. If the teacher seems unwilling to oblige, follow up with the school principal with regard to placement.

Bipolar disorder, while serious, is both manageable and treatable. With proper support and knowledge, children who have bipolar disorder can lead a very fulfilling and productive life. Check in with your local Family Guidance Center for more resources to help children living with mental illness.

 

Experts Agree that Childhood Mental Illness Is A Growing Concern

13085459_sAs an expectant parent you might play Mozart to your developing baby because it is supposed to increase intelligence.  You also probably look at infant toys which promise to stimulate brain development and you give cuddling and positive reinforcement to build baby’s confidence and security.  And at the first sign of a cold or ear infection, your little one is whisked off to the pediatrician’s office for a check-up.  So why do we tend not to be as attentive about the mental/emotional wellness of our children as they grow?  Experts across a range of disciplines warn that mental illness is more prevalent than ever among children, yet parents still seem to be unaware of the risk.

As recently as 2012, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that mental illness has overtaken physical illness on the list of leading childhood disabilities.  Physicians say that mental illness is one of the top five childhood disabilities for the first time in three decades showing that the problem of childhood mental illness is on the rise.

Professional psychiatric journals report similar findings saying that one tenth of U.S. children have a serious mental illness and a second ten percent have mild or moderate mental illness.  Given the fact that most lifetime mental illnesses form before age 14 years (National Institutes on Mental Health), as parents we should be as watchful over our children’s emotional and behavioral health as we are over his/her physical and intellectual development.

The rise in childhood mental illness means more children are being medicated for emotional and behavioral disorders than at any time prior.  But while medications offer effective treatment for some symptoms, it is still critical to address the root causes behind symptoms.  Professional therapy helps our children, and us as parents, to uncover some behavioral or situational triggers for the symptoms of mental illness and can show us new ways to work on the underlying problems.  Family Guidance Center offers a team of mental health professionals who can help you take the first step with an assessment of mental health symptoms, as well as help you decide on a treatment strategy. As parents we wouldn’t wait if it was the flu … don’t wait if you see your child struggling with a mental health problem.

Four Common Signs of Disordered Mental Health in Kids

16695431_sWhen children exhibit unusual behavior, it is often chalked up to growing pains or moving  through a phase. Many times mental disorders are identifiable in the adolescent years or sooner, but it’s easy for the signs to be overlooked or confused with something else. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that about 20 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 17 live with a mental disorder of some type with ADHD, autism and related disorders, mood disturbances, and substance use disorders ranking among the most common.

Harvard research indicates that 50 percent of mental disorder symptoms present by 14 years of age. And, early attention to these issues yields the best course for treatment. A report presented by Medical Daily shares some signs of disordered mental health in children and adolescents so parents don’t have to be left wondering.

Inability to focus
While many kids have limited attention spans, persistent poor concentration may be indicative of something more serious. For instance, a child with ADHD or depression may even have trouble focusing on activities they enjoy doing. It’s also typical for kids who have problems paying attention to struggle in school. Inability to focus can be driven by a number of things, including consuming thoughts of guilt, shame, or even death.

Persistent and enduring mood swings
Normal shifts in mood should not last beyond a couple of weeks. Abrupt mood swings that transition between periods of hyperactivity and depression could be a sign of bipolar disorder. Problematic mood swings are those that linger on and negatively affect a child’s social interaction and academia. According to John M. Grohol, Psy.D, symptoms of bipolar differ from normal hyperactivity in their duration and severity.

Intense and Reoccurring Fears
When a child’s fears start to interfere with normal functioning, it becomes problematic and may be cause for concern. It’s not uncommon for young kids to be afraid of the dark or experience separation anxiety. Older kids may fret before tests or get anxious about being accepted by their peers. However, most children don’t obsess over issues like death or far away goals like getting into college.

Changes in physical appearance
Abnormal increases or decreases in weight may also be indicators of a problem as 80 percent of those with serious mental conditions are overweight (NIH).

Parents should trust their instincts when it comes to spotting things out of the norm. Confronting issues of mental health is nothing to be ashamed of and many ailments are treatable without medication. If you or someone you know has children exhibiting these symptoms, encourage them to seek help from the Family Guidance Center.

Mounting School Stress Can Set off Mood Disturbances

13525405_mIt’s common knowledge that chronic stress can lead to physical illness like heart problems and even the growth of tumors , according to some studies. Ongoing stress has also been linked with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

With standardized testing underway for area elementary and middle schools and with high school and college students preparing for end-of-semester finals, it’s important to remember the serious toll that stress can take on children and young adults.

According to psychiatrist Melissa DelBello, MD, who serves at the University of Cincinnati as co-director of the Division of Bipolar Disorders Research, once the stresses of school set in, the kids are at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. But how can parents know the symptoms? According to a recent PhysOrg.com article parents should watch for extreme irritability, explosive temper tantrums, and volatile mood shifts. While Dr. DelBello acknowledges that children of all ages at some point experience irritability and moodiness, the key is to look for signs of impaired functioning.

She advises that if children aged 12 to 18 are consistently unable or unwilling to learn in a classroom setting or if they are not participating in class and completing assignments, there may be a problem. Poor functioning at school can be accompanied by persistent social problems with classmates and family members as well.

Most kids start the school year off excited, ready to go back and reunite with friends. However, as time goes on, the ‘honeymoon phase’ as Dr. DeBello refers to it, quickly wears off when the reality of coursework sets in. She warns parents to be vigilant regarding the physical manifestations of stress, which can trigger mood disturbances such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Parents who suspect their children’s behavioral issues may be rooted in something deeper than normal mood fluctuations should contact the Family Guidance Center. Mental health professionals at Family Guidance Center can perform professional assessments, regardless of income. As Dr. DeBello points out, a formal assessment is necessary to develop the best course of treatment for both child and family. As a parent, it’s important to trust your gut because early prognosis leads to the best outcomes for treatment.

Communities Commemorate Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, May 9

Each year in May, organizations and communities across the country join together to promote National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, a special day set aside for youth to promote positive mental health. In 2006, the day was nationally recognized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Mental Health Services. This year, the focus of SAMHSA’s ‘Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health Campaign’ will be held on Thursday, May 9.

While the previous year’s efforts honed in on the effects of childhood trauma and how to build resilience, the theme for 2013 calls awareness to issues affecting childhood mental health and highlights how positive mental health impacts healthy childhood development, even from birth.

Stigma surrounding the subject of mental health has been around for ages and continues to be a barrier preventing many from seeking assistance. The U.S. Department of  Health and Human Services reports that approximately 1 in 5 children live with mental illness. However, as many as 20 percent don’t receive the professional care they need.

Communities nationwide will be hosting their own events on May 9 to commemorate Awareness Day and promote positive mental health, wellness and social development of all youths.  According to the SAMHSA website, events can support the national theme or take a local approach, emphasizing concerns common to the surrounding area.

This year, the Family Guidance Center has partnered with many community agencies to host a Children’s Fair and Picnic to be enjoyed by all. The event will take place on Thursday, May 9 at the Civic Center Park in St. Joseph, Mo., located behind City Hall from 4 – 7 p.m. There will be many booths with different activities and events for children, and everyone is invited to attend.

Childhood mental illness has been linked to higher instances of dropping out of school, substance abuse, and incarceration. However, mental illness is highly treatable with early detection and care. If you or someone you know has a child with symptoms of mental illness, please do not ignore it. Contact the Family Guidance Center.