Is Your Child Bipolar, ADHD, Or Borderline?

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Some parents who grew up distrusting the mental health profession find themselves confronting it unexpectedly when their children enter school. Many children end up getting diagnosed with ADHD when they actually suffer from bipolar disorder.

These parents often remember, from their own school experience, that one child who ran around during class, stabbed classmates with pencils, stripped off his or her clothing at inappropriate moments, enacted unfunny and obscene playing with his or her school lunch, and, usually, read at two or three grade levels below the other students.  What could be more devastating than discovering that this “bad” child, this “other” is now you own child?

In the old days, a child who acted out had a “discipline problem.” If the child didn’t respond to conventional discipline, that child was branded a “problem” and spent the rest of his or her days in remedial classrooms, most likely growing up to become a criminal. These days, modern psychology and child rearing tries to help struggling children. Psychologists have found that many so-called “bad” kids are simply suffering from treatable mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), or ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder).

Although ultimately more helpful than telling troubled children that they are incurable monsters, this medical discourse can sometimes confuse their suffering parents. If a child is impulsive, can’t pay attention in class, and routinely bites his or her classmates when the class is supposed to be colouring, it’s sometimes hard for parents–and even psychiatrists–to say what the problem is. “Is my child bipolar, ADHD, or what?” think the befuddled parents.

The fact is that ADHD and bipolar disorder typically evince similar symptoms in children. Both mental illnesses are characterized by a seeming inability to pay attention, periods of great physical restlessness, impulsiveness, and highly unstable moods. To make matters worse, children with both disorders are likely to have similar feelings of isolation and not fitting in at school–which increases the strength of their symptoms. The differences between the symptoms of the two disorders are very subtle–but they are there.

For example, although children with both disorders have a propensity for breaking things and destroying property, bipolar kids tend to break things out of anger. Meanwhile, ADHD kids will often destroy property for different reasons. Both types of kids have rapid and irrational mood swings. However, the moods of the bipolar children last much longer.

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