Manic Depression

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Depressive disorders, which include major depressive disorder (unipolar depression), dysthymic disorder (chronic, mild depression), and bipolar disorder (manic-depression), can have far reaching effects on the functioning and adjustment of young people. Among both children and adolescents, depressive disorders confer an increased risk for illness and interpersonal and psychosocial difficulties that persist long after the depressive episode is resolved; in adolescents there is also an increased risk for substance abuse and suicidal behavior.

Children as young as seven suffer from manic depression, according to researchers who have also found many suffer a more severe illness than most adults. Mental health experts say children who show signs of manic depression are less likely to be accurately diagnosed than adults with the same symptoms. Manic depression is a mental health problem which involves extreme mood swings, also known as bipolar disorder.

Some of the symptoms of manic depression are hyperactivity, irritability and being easily distracted. Signs of such depressive disorders in young people often are viewed as normal mood swings typical of a particular developmental stage. In addition, health care professionals may be reluctant to prematurely categorize a young person with a mental illness diagnosis. Yet early diagnosis and treatment of depressive disorders are critical to healthy emotional, social, and behavioral development.

Following are some of the symptoms of manic depression in children and adolescents:

  • A child is overly elated and shows hyperactivity or is lethargic
  • Reduction in the requirement of sleep
  • Severe irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Feelings of grandiose
  • Aggressive behavior, often self-destructive
  • Paranoid delusions or hallucinations
  • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
  • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
  • Social isolation, poor communication, lack of interest in playing with friends
  • Fear of death, often talks about committing suicide

Treatment for manic depression in children and adolescents often involves short-term psychotherapy, medication, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or the combination, and targeted interventions involving the home or school environment. Treatment for manic-depressive illness depends upon the symptoms, the severity and duration of the illness, the possible precipitating causes (stressors) and previous responses to treatment. Studies have shown that the combination of medication, psychotherapy and family psycho-education has markedly increased treatment compliance and significantly reduced the relapse rate following the acute episode of a manic-depressive illness.

A severe bout of depression or mania, during which a child or teenager may become a danger to himself/herself or others, often requires inpatient hospitalization.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,