THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Pediatric bipolar disorder is not something you usually hear about. Psychiatrists admit it's tough to diagnose a child and yet there seems to be a rise in the number of kids who doctors say have it.
According to The Woodlands mom Dawn Kuhn, it’s a major problem.
“I'm the maddest mama bear on the planet. I'm not going to lie,” she said.
Kuhn claims her son was misdiagnosed as bipolar at 7 years old.
“That was a very dark time, especially for me as a mom because of the guilt that you feel,” Kuhn said.
Dr. Jonathan Stevens, chief of child psychology at Menninger Clinic, did not treat Kuhn's son but said as the illness becomes more widely understood, more children are diagnosed and therefore can be misdiagnosed.
He said the cardinal signs a child may truly be bipolar would be if there’s a genetic link and, “Often times we see this seething irritability, families will say they feel like they're walking on eggshells and that is something you see far more in pediatric mania, pediatric bipolar disorder compared to our adult form."
What Stevens really wants parents to understand is that bipolar is rarely diagnosed in someone younger than 15.
“It's rare and it's often times a difficult diagnosis. However, in those (younger) children their symptoms are often times more extreme in many cases than the adult patients," Stevens said.
Kuhn’s son is adopted and she said his biological mother was diagnosed as bipolar, which is partially why doctors concluded he must have it, too. Except, Kuhn said, medications didn’t seem to help him.
“He was still raging. He was still having extreme mood swings. Highest of high, lowest of low. When he's happy, he wants to run for president and rule the world and when he's sad, ‘it's the worst day of my life, I hate my life,’ and we could go through this cycle several times a day," Kuhn said.
Stevens said with true bipolar episodes, the mood swings typically last a week or longer.
In an effort to help her son, Kuhn turned to an alternative testing called brain mapping.
“Everybody was alarmed because my son who had been diagnosed as bipolar was showing seizure activity,” Kuhn said.
Now, she said, they’re on a new treatment and doing better. Kuhn has started a foundation to help other families like hers.
Stevens said it’s important to remember these tests haven’t been proven to replace medical diagnosis and if a child is truly bipolar and meds are prescribed correctly, they are life-saving. He said half of people with bipolar will attempt suicide and therefore it's important to make the diagnosis quickly and correctly if someone is truly suffering.