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Bipolar Kids Focus Less on Eyes

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

A new study suggests that bipolar children spend less time looking at someone’s eyes when trying to judge people’s emotional expressions such as happy, sad, fearful and angry.

This new study finding may help explain why children with bipolar disorder and severe mood dysregulation have difficulty determining other people’s emotional expressions, said the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health investigators.

The researchers tracked the eye movements of children with and without psychiatric disorders as they viewed faces with different emotional expressions. Most of the children spent more time looking at the eyes, the facial feature that conveys the most information about emotion.

Children with bipolar disorder and severe mood dysregulation paid less attention to the eyes and more attention to the noses and mouths of the faces.

“In combination with other studies, our findings indicate the potential value of treatment programs that teach children how to identify emotions by looking at others’ eyes,” study author Pilyoung Kim said in a society news release.

“If such training helps children to process the emotional information in their world more accurately, that may in turn increase their ability to regulate their emotional reactions to social situations,” Kim added.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar is a serious brain disorder, and is sometimes referred to as manic-depressive illness.

Children with bipolar disorder go through unusual mood changes. Sometimes they feel very happy or “up,” and are much more active than usual. This is called mania. Sometimes children with bipolar disorder feel very sad and “down.”  They are much less active than usual. This is called depression.

Bipolar disorder is not the same as the normal ups and downs every kid goes through. Bipolar symptoms are much more powerful than that.

Bipolar youth may have more normal moods between these episodes, while the periods of depression or mania can last for days, weeks or even months. What many parents don’t know is that these symptoms often mimic those attributed to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF), 15% of U.S. children diagnosed with ADHD may actually be suffering early-onset bipolar disorder instead.

What are the symptoms of bipolar or manic /depressive illness? offers these bipolar symptoms.
Manic Symptoms:

- Severe changes in mood compared to others of the same age and background – either unusually happy or silly, or very irritable, angry, agitated or aggressive

- Unrealistic highs in self-esteem – your child feels all powerful or like a superhero with special powersSignificant increase in energy and the ability to go with little or no sleep for days without feeling tired

- Increase in talking – your child talks too much, too fast, changes topics too quickly and cannot be interrupted

- Distractibility – your child’s attention moves constantly from one subject to the next

- Repeated high risk-taking behavior, such as abusing alcohol and drugs, reckless driving or sexual promiscuity

Depressive Symptoms:

- Irritability, depressed mood, persistent sadness or frequent crying

- Thoughts of death or suicide

- Loss of enjoyment in favorite activities

- Frequent complaints of physical illnesses, such as headaches or stomach aches

- Low energy level, fatigue, poor concentration, complaints of boredom, etc.

- Major change in eating or sleeping patterns, such as oversleeping or overeating

Some of these signs are similar to those that occur in teens with other problems, such as drug abuse, delinquency, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or even schizophrenia. A child and adolescent psychiatrist can only make the diagnosis with careful observation over an extended period of time.

The study was presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego. Research presented at meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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