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Saturday, 16 June, 2001, 00:16 GMT 01:16 UK
'Children suffer manic depression'
The average age of children with manic depression was just over 10
The average age of children with manic depression was just over 10
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.

In a group with an average age of just over 10, a quarter of manic depressive children were "seriously suicidal".

US scientists have found the type of manic depression seen in children is similar to the most severe form of the condition seen in adults.

Their work was aimed at improving diagnosis of manic depression in young children.

We hope that this will enable children to receive an appropriate diagnosis at an early age so effective treatment can be provided

Spokesman for the Manic Depression Fellowship
Mental health experts on both sides of the Atlantic 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.

It affects 1 in 100 adults and 1 in 200 young people.

Many people remain well for long periods of time, and the key to treatment is early diagnosis, which will allow the condition to be managed with therapy and medication.

Children's symptoms

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri presented their findings to the Fourth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Barbara Geller, a professor of child psychiatry at Washington University, and her team compared 93 children who had manic depression with 81 children who had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and another 94 healthy children.

ADHD was used as a comparison because many parents, teachers and health professionals confused manic depression and the condition, said the researchers.

Some of the symptoms of manic depression - hyperactivity, irritability and being easily distracted - are the same.

But children with manic depression can giggle inappropriately, get "grandiose" ideas, such as telling their teachers how to run the school, and need less sleep.

The average age of children with manic depression was found to be just over 10. Half the children had not reached puberty, and 43% were between seven and 10.

The children were examined again a year after the original research, which they said helped "dispel the notion that manic children were just children with ADHD who were having a bad day."

The study also found only about 50% of those diagnosed with manic depression were on medications that adults would be receiving to treat mood swings.

How children are affected

Prof Geller said: "Typically, adults with bipolar disorder have episodes of either mania or depression that last a few months and have relatively normal functioning between episodes.

"But in manic children we have found a more severe, chronic course of illness."

She said: "Many children will be both manic and depressed at the same time, will often stay ill for years without intervening well periods and will frequently have multiple daily cycles of highs and lows."

A spokeswoman for the Manic Depression Fellowship: "We hope that this will enable children to receive an appropriate diagnosis at an early age so effective treatment can be provided.

"Misdiagnosis of manic depression is a common problem - GP's in the UK receive no specific training in how to recognise severe mood disorders and on average it takes adults 10 years to be given a correct diagnosis.

"This problem of misdiagnosis is significantly magnified in children, particularly as there is so little provision of services in children's mental health.

"Misdiagnosis and incorrect medication, particularly with children being prescribed Ritalin for ADHD is another major stumbling block in recovery."

The Mental Health Foundation, which is about to launch a report into what primary schools should do to look after children's mental health, said: "Young children can have mental health problems, and more needs to be done to acknowledge that."

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