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Bipolar Disorder in Children

Bipolar disorder may be the cause of mood swings in children and adolescents that persist and interfere with a child’s ability to function normally in daily life. Manic-depression, or bipolar disorder, is a mood disorder characterized by rapid swings in mood, energy, and behavior.

Early childhood symptoms are possible, but they are more likely to appear in adolescence or adulthood. Young people with this condition were previously underdiagnosed. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, up to one-third of the 3.4 million depressed children and teens in the United States may actually be suffering from the early onset of bipolar disorder. Even though doctors are now able to diagnose and treat this disorder in children and adolescents, many people are still unaware of it.

Bipolar disorder in children is characterized by rapid alternating episodes of extremely high mood (mania) and extremely low mood (depression). Intermittent periods of irritability may be accompanied by periods of good health, or the young person may experience both extremes at once. Parents of children with this disorder frequently describe their children as erratic, alternating between aggressive or silly and withdrawn behavior. Anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more common in children with bipolar disorder. It is difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder in children because of the presence of these “co-occurring” disorders.

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