- Bipolar disorder, a mental disorder that features alternating manic and depressive mood episodes, affects children as well as adults. Children with bipolar disorder may exhibit such symptoms as decreased motivation and energy, anger, impulsive behavior, distraction, hyperactivity, anxiety, and difficulty getting along with peers. Bipolar students may also have memory problems and difficulty with executive functioning. According to BP Children, students with bipolar disorder may show a variety of symptoms in one day.
- Students with bipolar disorder may be on some type of medication, such as a mood stabilizer or antidepressant, to help manage their symptoms. School nurses may play a role in helping treat side effects of a student's medication. The Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation recommends that school nurses in particular be aware of possible side effects that may include fatigue, diarrhea, stomach problems and "cognitive dulling."
- A school nurse is a part of the school staff, trained to deal with the medical needs of the students. According to a 2008 article from USA Today, a trend toward more inclusive schools means that school nurses have to treat an increasing variety of disabilities and disorders including bipolar disorder, asthma and extreme allergies. The typical school nurse is responsible for the care of approximately 1,100 students, according to the USA Today article.
- Teachers with bipolar students may need a contact person on the school staff to help the student and the teacher if the student becomes anxious and is having trouble functioning in the classroom. The student may be allowed to go to the contact person for respite if need be. BP Children suggests that a school nurse can be such a contact person because the contact person should be educated about bipolar disorder, be familiar with the student and aware of the student's needs.
- The school nurse may be part of a bipolar student's treatment team. A treatment team can include a school nurse, a mental health specialist, a physician, "at least one teacher, and at least one parent," according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Treatment teams meet regularly to discuss the bipolar student's progress and any concerns or difficulties there may be.
- School nurses may be involved in helping ease such symptoms of bipolar disorder as appetite changes and loss of energy. Students First Project recommends that teachers coordinate with school nurses to allow children who are fatigued to have healthy snacks as needed to keep the students' energy level up.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
- The accommodations that may be necessary to help a student with bipolar disorder function in a regular classroom are federally guaranteed. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ensure classroom modifications and certain accommodations will be made as they are needed by a bipolar student. IDEA requires schools to provide the necessary health services throughout elementary, middle and high school.