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The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

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By Dwight L. Carlson

From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998

The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:

1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.

2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.

3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.

I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.

Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.

THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL

Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:

Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.

The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.

According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”

The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.

Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.

This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.

The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.

shooting
Don’t Shoot the Wounded

Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”

MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.

God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”

A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS

When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.

Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.

I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.

This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.

Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.

 

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What’s the Role of God’s Word in the Fight Against Depression?

SPIRITUAL BROMIDE OR FUEL FOR THE SOUL?

Years ago, in a public venue, I extolled the value of wielding God’s Word as a weapon against depression. Before I finished my comments, a listener blurted out, “That’s oversimplification of a complex condition! You think you can cure depression by flinging a Bible verse at it? That’s totally unrealistic.”

If he had allowed me to finish, he would have heard my comment in its larger context.

When I tout God’s Word as a weapon against depression, I’m not saying that depression suddenly evaporates when I read the Bible or ponder a verse I’ve memorized. I’m not saying that having regular devotions in the Bible will forestall the onset of depressive episodes. I’m not advocating the neglect of medical or psychological treatment, nor other resources of the Spirit, such as fellowship and prayer. But I am saying that anchoring myself in God’s Word is nonetheless integral to my endurance. In particular, the promises of Scripture keep me from giving up and yielding to the despair.

In Future Grace, John Piper emphasizes that “wherever despondency comes from, Satan paints with a lie. The lie says, ‘You will never be happy again. You will never be strong again. You will never have vigor and determination again. Your life will never again be purposeful. There is no morning after this night. No joy after weeping. All is gathering gloom, darker and darker.’”

When I’m bombarded with a similar message of hopelessness, I buttress my faith with verses that combat Satan’s lies, such as these words from Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Another buoyant promise that keeps me from drowning in discouragement is Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.”

No matter how I’m feeling, I strive to cling to a right view of God, as depicted in these words from Isaiah 30:18: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.”

I can’t prevent an onset of despondency by memorizing Scripture, but I can shorten its stay and minimize its effects by focusing on God: Who He is, what He has done for me, and what He has pledged Himself to do.

The author of Psalm 73:26 also fought despair by riveting his attention on truth about God. He acknowledged weakness and despondency with these words: “My flesh and my heart may fail.” But he refused to yield to discouragement. He battled back by telling himself, “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

An occasional effect of depression in relation to my work is the inability to feel God’s presence as I prepare for and teach classes at Columbia International University. That’s when I lock my mental lens on Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Like the Psalmist, I “preach to myself,” or engage in biblical self-talk. I remind myself that He is with me whether or not I feel His presence. I tell myself that God’s Word, which promises His presence, is far more reliable than my fickle feelings that question His presence.

When I go to Scripture, does the depression magically evaporate? No, yet I work with renewed confidence and vigor, and take the next step rather than yielding to despair.

I don’t give in to the urge to cancel classes or quit because I don’t feel God’s presence. I wield God’s Word because no matter what causes my depression, I still have a spiritual battle to fight. Will I believe the hopeless message that permeates my mind when I’m depressed or will I believe what God says that puts my current despair in the context of eternity and His character?

When has the Lord sustained you through His written Word?

your brother,

Terry

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

 

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When Faith Doesn’t Seem to Work

by Terry Powell

I am not a Christian because my faith “works” for me. Talk to a devout Mormon, Muslim, or Buddhist and he’ll extol the here-and-now benefits of his faith. He’ll cite a serenity of spirit, or a sense of order that believing brings to his life. Yet his belief system contradicts mine, so logically these various faiths cannot all be true!

If I were a Christian just because faith has utility for me, because my days are more likely to unfold in a smooth, trouble-free manner, I’d be a pragmatist, pure and simple. And I’d be prone to shuck my commitment to Christ the moment a different philosophy or religion appeared to offer me more.

Don’t get me wrong. Following Christ is not without rewards in the present. My faith often sustains me, provides perspective for decision-making, and injects happiness rooted in a biblical worldview.

But not all the time.

There’s the inevitable warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with. And in my case, either chronic depression or other weaknesses of temperament sometime get the best of me. I’ll keep praying for relief and I’ll strive for sound mental health, yet I don’t want to be among the growing number of Christians who expect God to give them on earth what He only promised for heaven.

From a theological perspective, I’m a Christian because God chose me and initiated a relationship with me (Eph. 2:1-10). From a human perspective, my faith is in Christ not because it works, but because I believe Christianity is true. And truth is objective reality, not a subjective experience. No matter how I feel, or how my day goes, truth doesn’t change. Truth just is. I wrote this poem to convey this point.

Nature of Truth

When all hope yields to despair

and I doubt that God is there;

when my heart is cold, unfeeling,

and my prayers bounce off the ceiling;

when depression takes its toll

and winter winds assault my soul;

when the race seems all uphill

and dying grows in its appeal;

when things don’t go as expected—

still, God’s Truth is unaffected.

In the long run, faith works in the sense that I’ll enjoy eternity with my Savior (thanks to His works, not mine). But being a Christian doesn’t shield me from affliction in the here and now. It does assure me of God’s compassion and healing presence: “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Love, Terry

 

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

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Recurring Depression and Fruitful Ministry

Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Expositors” 1834-1892

DOES RECURRING DEPRESSION PREVENT A FRUITFUL MINISTRY?

The ‘Depression-Prone’ Preacher

by Terry Powell

Long before the proliferation of mass media, he was known and revered throughout the Christian world. Scholars of his era labeled him, “the prince of expositors.” His commentaries, devotionals, and sermons are still being published, generations after his death.

So many folks in London wanted to hear him preach that he occasionally pleaded with church members to stay home so unsaved visitors could get a seat and hear the gospel. The pages of his book, Lectures to My Students, should be dog-eared by every vocational or volunteer teacher of Bible.

Yet, depression dogged Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) most of his adult life. A major bout with despondency occurred in 1858 when he was 24, serving as a pastor in London. That’s when he wrote, “My spirits were sunken so low that I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I know not what I wept for.” Repeated episodes spawned these words: “Causeless depression cannot be reasoned with…as well fight with the mist as with this shapeless, undefinable, yet all-beclouding hopelessness.”

What can we learn from this depression-prone, yet outrageously fruitful leader?

  1. Depression doesn’t necessarily hinder ministry effectiveness. He often didn’t feel like serving, yet enabled by God’s grace, he kept giving himself to others. No matter how physically and emotionally drained he was, most Mondays he wrote out by longhand the previous day’s sermon so it could later be published.
  2. The pain of despondency may expand one’s usefulness by cultivating dependency and humility. Spurgeon said that despondency was “my trial, my thorn in the flesh that Satan wanted to use to take me down, and God wanted to use to deepen my dependency on Him.” A favorite verse of his was 2 Corinthians 12:9, where God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In reference to this verse, Spurgeon said, “My job is not to supply the power, but the weakness. That’s one job I’m good at! It’s God’s job to supply the power.”

  3. Openness about one’s depression may encourage others, and point them to God’s sustaining grace. Spurgeon’s transparency concerning his depression was rare for his day. Knowing how many people suffered in silence with this malady, he preached a message to show others how he coped with it (titled “When a Preacher Is Downcast”). From experience he learned and taught an ironic truth captured in my favorite Spurgeon quote: “God gets from us most glory when we get from Him much grace.”

  4. His life and ministry demonstrate that depression and spiritual maturity aren’t mutually-exclusive. Depression didn’t negate Spurgeon’s godliness, nor did his steadfast use of spiritual disciplines cure it.

Biographies of and articles about Spurgeon don’t always mention his predilection for depression. Yet reading about his accomplishments and ministry output will show you what God can do through a yielded person not in spite of depression, but possibly because of it. Spurgeon also suffered from severe gout in his later years, long before medical intervention could eliminate or minimize the pain.

I benefited enormously from Arnold Dalimore’s Spurgeon (Banner of Truth, 1984). Also, in a chapter of John Piper’s Future Grace, titled “Faith in Future Grace Versus Despondency,” you can read about Spurgeon’s battle with depression. In 2014, Zack Eswine wrote a more thorough coverage of Spurgeon’s despondency: Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for Those Who Suffer from Depression (Christian Focus Publishers)

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.

 

 

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Susanna Wesley’s Prayer of Repentance

prayer-woman

“God’s way is perfect.
 All the Lord’s promises prove true.
 He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.”

Ps. 18:30

When Susanna Wesley prayed, God listened. I recently came across this  and knew it was meant to be shared on Brokenbelievers. I hope you read it and it spurs you to pray as well. We all need encouragement and this is pretty valuable stuff. I know of no higher call than to teach another believer how to pray.

“Heavenly Father,
“I have much need in humbling myself before you, the great and holy God because of the sins I am daily guilty of, in thought, word and deed against your holy majesty.  Help me overcome the levity and to shun vain and impure thoughts which, though they do not make their abode for any long period of time, yet in their passing through leave a tincture of impurity.”
“Enable me to keep my heart with all diligence, my thoughts, and affections, for out of them are the issues of life.  How often I have offended in this kind!   Cleanse me from secret faults, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Help me to guard against vain and unnecessary words, and to speak of you, O my God, with that reverence, that humility, that gravity that I ought.”
  Amen.”

Susanna Wesley

From Wikipedia:

Susanna experienced many hardships throughout her life. Her husband left her and the children for over a year because of a minor dispute.

To her absent husband, Susannah Wesley wrote:

“I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.”
**
“Cold prayers will never have any warm answers”. 

–Thomas Brooks

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Redeeming Pain

When history speaks, do we listen?

by Terry Powell

It’s one thing to say that God’s sovereignty redeems our pain or weakness for a greater purpose. It’s another thing altogether to see a vivid illustration of the truth.

David Brainerd (1718-1747) took the gospel of Christ to Indians in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, often living alone with sparse food rations and exposure to cold. Extremely melancholy in temperament, Brainerd endured long episodes of joylessness, often slinking into despair over awareness of his sin, or over an incapacity to feel more love for the people he was trying to reach. Physical frailty accompanied his psychological anguish. He died of tuberculosis before his thirtieth birthday.

A couple years after launching missionary work among the Indians, in 1845, God’s Spirit brought a spiritual awakening in New Jersey. Within a year, the church Brainerd started numbered 130.

Brainerd kept diaries in which he described bouts of despondency, disclosed his consciousness of sin in light of God’s holiness, and recounted efforts to evangelize the Indians. Their pages teem with honest self-disclosure as well as desperate dependence on God for physical and emotional sustenance.

Twenty-two places in his diaries he yearned for death as an escape from his misery. Yet he persisted in proclaiming Christ, even when his own temperamental makeup eclipsed his ability to experience the joy inherent in the gospel. One entry revealed his acceptance of weakness and deeply-entrenched desire to finish well: “Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God… Oh, that I might never loiter on my heavenly journey.”

After his death, the fruit of Brainerd’s life multiplied exponentially. In 1749, Jonathan Edwards, in whose home Brainerd died, took the diaries and published them as a Life of Brainerd, a book that’s never been out of print. Renown missionaries and leaders galvanized by Brainerd’s story include John Wesley, Henry Martyn, William Carey, Robert McCheyne, David Livingstone, Andrew Murray, and Jim Elliot.

The borders of Brainerd’s impact weren’t expanded in spite of his emotional and physical afflictions, but because of them.

His story resonates with so many servants over the years because when push comes to shove, they, too, wrestle with sinful propensities, episodes of despondency, and physical frailties. They believe they are candidates for the same divine grace they observe in Brainerd’s life. John Piper, himself buoyed by Brainerd’s story, offers this apt summary statement: “Brainerd’s life is a vivid, powerful testimony to the truth that God can and does use weak, sick, discouraged, beat-down, lonely, struggling saints who cry to him day and night to accomplish amazing things for his glory.”

How can God use you despite physical or emotional frailty?

For biblical indicators that God uses weak, needy people, read these texts: 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2 Corinthians 4:7; 12:9-10. Resources quoted are The Life of David Brainerd, by Jonathan Edwards, and The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction on the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, by John Piper.


Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Terry has a new blog at http://www.penetratingthedarkness.com. It deals with the believer’s depression and other mental issues. Please visit him and tell him “Hi” from me.

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Mental Illness in Children & Teens

Does your child go through intense mood changes?

Does your child have extreme behavior changes too? Does your child get too excited or silly sometimes? Do you notice he or she is very sad at other times? Do these changes affect how your child acts at school or at home?

Some children and teens with these symptoms may have bipolar disorder, a serious mental illness. Read on to understand more.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a serious brain illness. It is also called 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. And sometimes children with bipolar disorder feel very sad and “down,” and 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 more powerful than that. The illness can make it hard for a child to do well in school or get along with friends and family members. The illness can also be dangerous. Some young people with bipolar disorder try to hurt themselves or attempt suicide.

Children and teens with bipolar disorder should get treatment. With help, they can manage their symptoms and lead successful lives.

Who develops bipolar disorder?

Anyone can develop bipolar disorder, including children and teens. However, most people with bipolar disorder develop it in their late teen or early adult years. The illness usually lasts a lifetime.

How is bipolar disorder different in children and teens than it is in adults?

When children develop the illness, it is called early-onset bipolar disorder. This type can be more severe than bipolar disorder in older teens and adults. Also, young people with bipolar disorder may have symptoms more often and switch moods more frequently than adults with the illness.

What causes bipolar disorder?

Several factors may contribute to bipolar disorder, including:

  • Genes, because the illness runs in families. Children with a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are more likely to get the illness than other children.
  • Abnormal brain structure and brain function.
  • Anxiety disorders. Children with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop bipolar disorder.

The causes of bipolar disorder aren’t always clear. Scientists are studying it to find out more about possible causes and risk factors. This research may help doctors predict whether a person will get bipolar disorder. One day, it may also help doctors prevent the illness in some people.

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar mood changes are called “mood episodes.” Your child may have manic episodes, depressive episodes, or “mixed” episodes. A mixed episode has both manic and depressive symptoms. Children and teens with bipolar disorder may have more mixed episodes than adults with the illness.

Mood episodes last a week or two—sometimes longer. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day.

Mood episodes are intense. The feelings are strong and happen along with extreme changes in behavior and energy levels.

Children and teens having a manic episode may:

  • Feel very happy or act silly in a way that’s unusual
  • Have a very short temper
  • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
  • Have trouble sleeping but not feel tired
  • Have trouble staying focused
  • Talk and think about sex more often
  • Do risky things.

Children and teens having a depressive episode may:

  • Feel very sad
  • Complain about pain a lot, like stomachaches and headaches
  • Sleep too little or too much
  • Feel guilty and worthless
  • Eat too little or too much
  • Have little energy and no interest in fun activities
  • Think about death or suicide.

Do children and teens with bipolar disorder have other problems?

Bipolar disorder in young people can co-exist with several problems.

  • Substance abuse. Both adults and kids with bipolar disorder are at risk of drinking or taking drugs.
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Children with bipolar disorder and ADHD may have trouble staying focused.
  • Anxiety disorders, like separation anxiety. Children with both types of disorders may need to go to the hospital more often than other people with bipolar disorder.
  • Other mental illnesses, like depression. Some mental illnesses cause symptoms that look like bipolar disorder. Tell a doctor about any manic or depressive symptoms your child has had.

Sometimes behavior problems go along with mood episodes. Young people may take a lot of risks, like drive too fast or spend too much money. Some young people with bipolar disorder think about suicide. Watch out for any sign of suicidal thinking. Take these signs seriously and call your child’s doctor.

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

An experienced doctor will carefully examine your child. There are no blood tests or brain scans that can diagnose bipolar disorder. Instead, the doctor will ask questions about your child’s mood and sleeping patterns. The doctor will also ask about your child’s energy and behavior. Sometimes doctors need to know about medical problems in your family, such as depression or alcoholism. The doctor may use tests to see if an illness other than bipolar disorder is causing your child’s symptoms.

How is bipolar disorder treated?

Right now, there is no cure for bipolar disorder. Doctors often treat children who have the illness in a similar way they treat adults. Treatment can help control symptoms. Treatment works best when it is ongoing, instead of on and off.

1. Medication. Different types of medication can help. Children respond to medications in different ways, so the type of medication depends on the child. Some children may need more than one type of medication because their symptoms are so complex. Sometimes they need to try different types of medicine to see which are best for them.

Children should take the fewest number and smallest amounts of medications as possible to help their symptoms. A good way to remember this is “start low, go slow”. Always tell your child’s doctor about any problems with side effects. Do not stop giving your child medication without a doctor’s help. Stopping medication suddenly can be dangerous, and it can make bipolar symptoms worse.

2. Therapy. Different kinds of psychotherapy, or “talk” therapy, can help children with bipolar disorder. Therapy can help children change their behavior and manage their routines. It can also help young people get along better with family and friends. Sometimes therapy includes family members.

What can children and teens expect from treatment?

With treatment, children and teens with bipolar disorder can get better over time. It helps when doctors, parents, and young people work together.

Sometimes a child’s bipolar disorder changes. When this happens, treatment needs to change too. For example, your child may need to try a different medication. The doctor may also recommend other treatment changes. Symptoms may come back after a while, and more adjustments may be needed. Treatment can take time, but sticking with it helps many children and teens have fewer bipolar symptoms.

You can help treatment be more effective. Try keeping a chart of your child’s moods, behaviors, and sleep patterns. This is called a “daily life chart” or “mood chart.” It can help you and your child understand and track the illness. A chart can also help the doctor see whether treatment is working.

How can I help my child or teen?

Help your child or teen get the right diagnosis and treatment. If you think he or she may have bipolar disorder, make an appointment with your family doctor to talk about the symptoms you notice.

If your child has bipolar disorder, here are some basic things you can do:

  • Be patient
  • Encourage your child to talk, and listen to him or her carefully
  • Be understanding about mood episodes
  • Help your child have fun
  • Help your child understand that treatment can help him or her get better.

How does bipolar disorder affect parents and family?

Taking care of a child or teenager with bipolar disorder can be stressful for you too. You have to cope with the mood swings and other problems, such as short tempers and risky activities. This can challenge any parent. Sometimes the stress can strain your relationships with other people, and you may miss work or lose free time.

If you are taking care of a child with bipolar disorder, take care of yourself too. If you keep your stress level down you will do a better job. It might help your child get better too.

Where do I go for help?

If you’re not sure where to get help, call your family doctor. You can also check the phone book for mental health professionals. Hospital doctors can help in an emergency.

I know a child or teen who is in crisis. What do I do?

If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, or if you know someone who might, get help quickly.

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Call your doctor
  • Call 911 or go to the emergency room
  • Call a toll-free suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Contact NIMH to find out more about bipolar disorder.

National Institute of Mental Health
Science Writing, Press & Dissemination Branch
6001 Executive Boulevard
Room 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD 20892-9663

Phone: 301-443-4513 or
Toll-free: 1-866-615-NIMH (6464)
TTY Toll-free: 1-866-415-8051
Fax: 301-443-4279
E-mail: nimhinfo@nih.gov
Web site: www.nimh.nih.gov

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