Distinguishing Between DMDD And Bipolar Disorder In Your Child

Understanding the mental health of a child can be a complex process when symptoms overlap between different disorders. Two disorders that are often confused are Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder [DMDD] and Bipolar Disorder [BD].

Both conditions involve mood dysregulation but are distinctively different from one another. Distinguishing between the two is crucial for getting the proper treatment for your child.

Recognizing The Symptoms

Accurately distinguishing your child’s mental health issues starts with recognizing the symptoms of both illnesses or disorders. This will help you and your pediatrician differentiate between DMDD and bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of DMDD includes;

  • Severe temper outburst, which can be verbal or behavioral
  • Outbursts that are disproportionate to the situation or provocations/reasons
  • Persistently irritable or angry mood between outbursts
  • Outbursts occurring 3 or more times per week

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder include;

  • Distinct episodes of depression or mania
  • manic symptoms may include excessive energy, racing thoughts, and impulsivity
  • Depressive symptoms include fatigue, sadness, and loss of interest
  • Mood shifts that can last for several days to several weeks

Understanding these symptoms will help you identify whether the issues your child is experiencing are more in line with DMDD or bipolar disorder.

Symptoms And Diagnostic Criteria

In addition to the symptoms, it’s essential to comprehend the diagnostic criteria for both disorders to distinguish between them accurately.

Here are several DMDD diagnostic criteria to consider:

  • Frequent temper outbursts lasting for at least 12 months
  • Persistent irritable mood lasting at least 12 months
  • Outbursts and irritability present in at least 2 settings, including home, school, or with peers

In the case of DMDD, the causes of DMDD include both environmental and biological factors, such as abnormal brain development, exposure to traumatic events, and a family history of mood disorders.

Understanding these factors can provide valuable insight into the underlying issues contributing to the symptoms and help tailor treatment plans accordingly.

Bipolar Disorder diagnostic criteria;

  • Presence of manic episodes lasting at least one week or severe enough to require hospitalization
  • Depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks
  • Symptoms cause significant impairment in the child’s daily life

Out of these diagnostic criteria, the most distinction between the two disorders is the presence or absence of manic episodes. If your child experiences manic episodes, bipolar disorder [BD] is more likely to be an appropriate diagnosis.

Causes And Risks Factors

The causes of both DMD and BD are not fully understood, but several factors are believed to influence their development. 

Cause of DMDD;

  • Genetic factors — children with a family history of mood disorders are more likely to develop DMDD
  • Environmental influences — exposure to traumatic or stressful events can contribute to the development of the disorder

Causes of bipolar disorder;

  • Genetic predisposition — bipolar disorder is highly heritable, with a significant portion of causes having a family history.
  • Brain chemistry and structure — imbalances in neurotransmitters and differences in brain structure have been observed in people with bipolar disorder.

Both disorders have similar risk factors, including;

  • Family history of mood disorders
  • Exposure to traumatic or stressful events
  • Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as ADHD or anxiety disorders

Understanding these risk factors will help you provide better insights into your child’s mental health and help determine the appropriate steps to take next. 

Treatment Options

Treatment plans for DMDD and bipolar disorder need to be individually tailored, taking into account the ages and needs of the children involved.

DMDD Treatment Options

  • Psychotherapy—especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy— helps children learn coping skills for managing mood swings and outbursts.
  • Medication to address severe symptoms if needed
  • Computer-based training [optional]

Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options

  • Mood stabilizers to control manic and depressive episodes
  • Psychotherapy [including family-focused therapy] to help manage the disorder
  • A strong support system to assist the child in their day-to-day life

Early interventions are crucial for both disorders to prevent the development of other related mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. 

How Parents Can Support Their Child

Parents with the proper knowledge, understanding, and strategies can make a difference. These tips below can serve as a guide for parents to foster a supportive environment for their children and help them manage their conditions more effectively;

Recognize The Signs and Symptoms Related to their specific disorder.

Knowing the symptoms of DMDD and bipolar disorder is the first step in supporting your child’s well-being. Familiarize yourself with the behaviors, mood patterns, and emotional fluctuations associated with their disorder.

When you understand these symptoms, you can quickly intervene and prevent potential escalations. Inform teachers or caregivers about their disorder and its episodes to ensure consistent support across various environments. 

Maintain open communication with your child about feelings and behaviors.

Encourage healthy and open communication about behaviors and feelings. Let your child know that it’s okay and safe to express what they are going through. Provide reassurance that they can always talk to you no matter what.

Seek professional help

Always seek professionals like pediatric psychologists or psychiatrists. Remember that children with DMDD or bipolar disorder can benefit from their expertise. 

They can provide an accurate diagnosis, individual treatment plans, and therapies ideal for your child’s needs. 

Foster a supportive environment at home

Your home is crucial to your child’s emotional and psychological well-being. Create a space filled with understanding, love, empathy, and positive affirmations. 

Keep your response predictable, consistent, and supportive to reduce stress and reinforce a sense of security.

Encourage participation in structured activities.

Social interactions and participation can help children with DMDD or bipolar disorder build a healthier coping mechanism and enhance peer relationships.

Sports clubs, arts, or hobby classes encourage perseverance, teamwork, and resilience. It provides therapeutic benefits for your child.

However, ensure these activities are manageable and respect the child’s comfort levels and preferences.

Final Words

Distinguishing between DMDD and bipolar disorder is essential for providing the proper support and treatment your child needs. When parents understand and are aware of these conditions’ symptoms, diagnostic criteria, and causes, they can make informed decisions that will positively impact their child’s well-being.

While the journey can be challenging, help and support are available. Each step you take is a stride towards a healthier future for your child.