Also known as manic-depression, bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. Children with bipolar disorder can exhibit abrupt and unusual mood changes, periods of hyperactivity and excitement followed by lethargy and depression, frequent tantrums or irritability, difficulty concentrating, reckless behavior and more.
Cycles of bipolar disorder in a child or teenager tend to occur more quickly than in an adult, who may have manic and depressive periods separated by weeks, months or years. The most apparent bipolar symptoms are behavioral, but there can also be effects on cognitive (thinking), cardiac (heart) and metabolic processes. Frequency, duration and intensity of these manic and depressive episodes vary among children and even within a single child’s condition.
Children and teens having a manic episode may act unusually happy or silly, engage in risky behavior, speak quickly, have trouble sleeping, display increased irritability, and/or have trouble concentrating. During a depressive episode, young people may feel sad, complain of pain, feel guilty or worthless, display changes in appetite, lack energy or interest in activities or even think about suicide.
Tests & Diagnosis
If your child’s doctor suspects bipolar disorder, he or she will ask you and your child about recent moods, sleeping patterns, energy and overall behavior. He or she may ask about mental illness or substance abuse history in your family. The doctor may give you questionnaires or behavioral rating scales which ask about your child’s mood, behaviors and thoughts. Additionally, the doctor may conduct a medical examination to rule out other conditions.
If your child is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he or she can be treated with medication and therapy. Different types of medication help different children, and some children may need more than one type to treat their bipolar symptoms. There is often a trial-and-error period when finding the right medication, especially in young children.
Certain types of psychotherapy, or talk therapy—such as cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy– have been shown to be effective in helping to manage bipolar disorder. Therapy can help your child manage his or her routines and relationships, understand the importance of taking medication and address new symptoms.
What caused my child’s bipolar disorder?
Genetics may play a part because the illness can run in families. Abnormal brain structure or function and anxiety disorders can also make a child more likely to develop the condition.
Do children with bipolar disorder have other problems?
Some young people with bipolar disorder also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, depression or problems with substance abuse.
What can we expect from my child’s treatment?
Children and teenagers can get better with treatment. Sometimes, the disorder changes as a child grows, so your doctor may recommend changes in medication or therapy if symptoms return. Be patient, encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings and moods, and help your child understand that treatment can help.
Where can I find a support group?
We will provide you with resources to help both you and your child. The Resources link on this webpage is also a good source for more information about bi-polar disorder and support groups.