Children of Bipolar Parents at Risk for Mental Disorders, Study Shows

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Teens


The Parents' Curse: "I hope you have children just like you!"

There may be a scientific basis for that. If your child's temper tantrums and assorted fits are frazzling your last nerve, it could be because he or she is a sort of mini-you.

Reuters Health reports frequent tantrums can be an early sign of something more serious, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or oppositional defiant disorder, inherited as a result of a bipolar parent.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by severe mood swings from depression to mania.

A new study published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry concludes that young children with a bipolar parent are eight times more likely than other children to develop ADHD and six times more likely to develop two or more mental disorders.
Researchers, led by Dr. Boris Birmaher of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, compared 121 children (ages 2 to 5) from 83 bipolar parents with 102 children of the same age from 65 parents with no bipolar symptoms. In the second group, they also excluded parents who had ever been diagnosed with other mental disorders. Children of bipolar parents had more significant manic and depressive symptoms than the other children.

Diagnosing preschoolers with bipolar disorder is controversial. However, Reuters Health reports, researchers cite previous studies where preschoolers were reliably diagnosed as young as age 2.

Researchers tell Reuters that parents with bipolar disorder may see behavior in their children that reminds them of their own. Their concern is justified, according to the study.

"The single largest risk factor for the development of bipolar disorder is a positive family history of the disorder," the study notes.

Early detection of mental disorders is important, Birmaher tells Reuters. Early intervention to help preschoolers regulate their moods has been effective in dealing with disruptive behavior and coping with later signs of mood disorders, he adds.

Effective treatment "may diminish the severity of and perhaps delay or prevent the new onset of" similar problems in preschoolers of bipolar parents, he tells the news service.

Related: Bipolar Disorder In Children And Teens

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.