Is my son bipolar?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am dealing with my son who is 13 and i believe he is bipolar. He has over the past 6 months been really angry depressed, saying he wished he was dead and gets in a rage over nothing alot. His father has been diagnosed with bp and personality disorder, depression and has been hospitalized several times. I was married to him for 13 years and we got divorced last Feburary. He was very abusive to me and my son but not our 2 girls. I felt like i finally got away from the anger and mood swings, and abuse. Now all of a sudden I feel like it is starting all over again now with my son.

My son is realizing it himself and his moodswings and anger for no reason and says he doesnt want to end up like his dad. He had 3 bad weeks in a row and decided that he wanted to go get help on his own I gave him the choice of waiting for any appointment in 2 weeks that was as soon as i could get him in anywhere or he could go to intreatment for 7 to 10 days. He chose the intreatment and has been there for 3 days seems to be doing ok i cant really tell they put him on 125mg of depakote 2xs per day and i have read so many bad and neg. things about it, i am scared, I am keeping the appointment that is in 2 weeks for a second opinion. The thing is my son doesnt get in any trouble at school has good grades, no drugs or drinking, is a very good kid just im am afraid he is going to go down hill if i dont get a hold on it now i am just really confused and scared for him.

A: Your son has trouble at home but no difficulties in school. This makes me question the bipolar diagnosis. When a person has a mental illness, it is evident in all settings, not just one place or another.

The effects of trauma are sometimes mistaken for bipolar disorder. It’s very possible that your son’s behavior is a result of how his dad treated him. As long as your husband was in the home, your son was walking on eggshells. He was too afraid to react. Now all those pent-up feelings of anger and pain need a place to go. It is not unusual for symptoms to show up when a child finally feels safe enough to show his distress.

Before you accept the diagnosis of bipolar and start your son on medicine, please have him evaluated by a therapist who specializes in trauma and adolescents. Medicine might have an immediate calming effect but if trauma is the real issue, all it will do is mask the problem, not cure it. Your boy deserves the chance to work through his feelings so he can be the man he wants to be. If he doesn’t show marked improvement after 3 – 4 months of therapy, have him re-evaluated. You will at least have better information to go on.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 28 Jan 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Is my son bipolar?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/01/28/is-my-son-bi-polar/