When parents realize their child might have a mental health concern, it’s the beginning of a long process of diagnosis and treatment. As with any health issue, uncovering the true cause of a child’s hyperactive behavior is a journey. Even after the best efforts, there’s always a possibility that doctors may misdiagnose a child’s mental health, or fail to fully diagnose it.
Bipolar disorder and ADHD are two separate mental health problems with similar symptoms. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, especially in children. It’s not hard to imagine why treating a child’s mental health is so complicated. Children and adults with the same mental health disorder will exhibit totally different symptoms. Plus, children usually can’t verbalize how they feel. Doctors and specialists have the tricky task of figuring out what’s wrong with a child while nervous parents watch on, wanting to know the diagnosis right away.
Some professionals believe children diagnosed with ADHD would be better diagnosed under bipolar disorder (also known as manic depressive illness), or perhaps diagnosed with both both bipolar and ADHD. To further complicate a diagnosis, bipolar and ADHD also have symptoms similar to depression and anxiety.
How are bipolar and ADHD similar, and different? Only physicians and specialists can test for the subtle variations between the two conditions, but here are some generalities:
- ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity coupled with poor concentration and attention skills. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme changes in mood.
- The bipolar child is either in a state of high energy, irritability, and activity (mania) or is consumed by feelings of sadness (depression).
- Children with ADHD may feel sad sometimes, but children with bipolar can feel depressed for days or weeks for no reason.
- Both ADHD and bipolar have an anger component, but anger manifests itself differently in bipolar and ADHD. Bipolar is marked by hours of severe irritability, rage attacks, explosive anger, and intentional destructiveness. An ADHD child’s anger comes from frustration and overstimulation, but ADHD anger will usually subside in 30 minutes.
- Bipolar disorder causes inattention because the child is too depressed or excited to care about anything. ADHD causes inattention because the child’s brain is unable to focus for any period of time.
The best path parents can take is to go doctors who specialize in both ADHD and bipolar disorder. Such professionals are knowledgeable about the similarities between mental health conditions and would know how to distinguish between them. Also, as a parent, tell your child’s doctors that you are concerned about your child receiving a complete, thorough diagnosis. Ask them to screen your child for all possible conditions before coming to a conclusion. Whenever you feel your child needs further diagnosis, don’t be afraid to ask for further analysis or another opinion.