Monday, September 18, 2000

Bipolar children difficult to treat

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Kathy Reusch says nobody can imagine what it is like to raise her son, Bryan, who has a bipolar disorder.

        The 10-year-old boy assaults family members, spouts obscenities and punches holes in walls.

        Bryan is among an increasing number of children identified with the disorder because more mental health professionals are looking for it.

        “Up through the early '90s, the general thought was that kids didn't have bipolar disorder,” Mary Fristad, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at Ohio State University told The Columbus Dispatch for a story Sunday.

        Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme swings between mania and depression formerly called manic-depression. Specialists are still trying to determine the best treatments for youngsters with the disorder.

        Ms. Reusch, of suburban Pickerington, is starting a support group for parents.

        She said Bryan once threatened to kill himself with a kitchen knife. To cope with her son's rages, which would persist for up to two hours, Ms. Reusch has locked Bryan in his room and called police.

        Ms. Reusch is especially worried Bryan will hurt his 5-year-old brother. “Bryan gets mad and pops him,” Ms. Reusch said. “I have to keep my eye on them all the time when they are together.”

        Pediatric bipolar usually occurs with other psychiatric conditions, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Its symptoms are different from those in adults.

        Diagnosis is tricky because children are not always able to articulate their feelings. The best guess among professionals is that about 0.5 percent of U.S. children and adolescents have the illness.

        Medications have helped moderate symptoms and enabled the boys to attend public schools.

        Nevertheless, the mothers still cope with regular outbursts and fret over their sons' futures.

        Without early diagnosis and treatment, bipolar disorder interferes with the social and psychological development of children. About 20 percent make a serious attempt at suicide and 85 percent drop out of high school, Ms. Fristad said.

        “There are some days when I think Bryan will end up in jail,” Ms. Reusch said. “There are other days when I think he is going to be all right.”

        The success of treatment varies tremendously from one child to the next, Ms. Fristad said.

        “I don't want to paint a picture that is too rosy or too bleak,” she said. “I don't want to give up hope on these kids because every year we have new medications to try.”


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