Bipolar disorder in children

Diagnosing bipolar disorder in children is controversial. This is largely because children don’t always display the same bipolar symptoms as adults. Their moods and behaviors may also not follow the standards doctors use to diagnose the disorder in adults.

Many bipolar symptoms that occur in children also overlap with symptoms from a range of other disorders that can occur in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

However, in the last few decades, doctors and mental health professionals have come to recognize the condition in children. A diagnosis can help children get treatment, but reaching a diagnosis may take many weeks or months. Your child may need to seek special care from a professional trained to treat children with mental health issues.

Like adults, children with bipolar disorder experience episodes of elevated mood. They can appear very happy and show signs of excitable behavior. These periods are then followed by depression. While all children experience mood changes, changes caused by bipolar disorder are very pronounced. They’re also usually more extreme than a child’s typical mood swing.

Manic symptoms in children

Symptoms of a child’s manic episode caused by bipolar disorder can include:

  • acting very silly and feeling overly happy
  • talking fast and rapidly changing subjects
  • having trouble focusing or concentrating
  • doing risky things or experimenting with risky behaviors
  • having a very short temper that leads quickly to outbursts of anger
  • having trouble sleeping and not feeling tired after sleep loss

Depressive symptoms in children

Symptoms of a child’s depressive episode caused by bipolar disorder can include:

  • moping around or acting very sad
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • having little energy for normal activities or showing no signs of interest in anything
  • complaining about not feeling well, including having frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • experiencing feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • eating too little or too much
  • thinking about death and possibly suicide

Other possible diagnoses

Some of the behavior issues you may witness in your child could be the result of another condition. ADHD and other behavior disorders can occur in children with bipolar disorder. Work with your child’s doctor to document your child’s unusual behaviors, which will help lead to a diagnosis.

Finding the correct diagnosis can help your child’s doctor determine treatments that can help your child live a healthy life.

Bipolar disorder in teens

Angst-filled behavior is nothing new to the average parent of a teenager. The shifts in hormones, plus the life changes that come with puberty, can make even the most well-behaved teen seem a little upset or overly emotional from time to time. However, some teenage mood swings may be the result of a more serious condition, such as bipolar disorder.

A bipolar disorder diagnosis is most common during the late teens and early adult years. For teenagers, the more common symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • being very happy
  • “acting out” or misbehaving
  • taking part in risky behaviors
  • abusing substances
  • thinking about sex more than usual
  • becoming overly sexual or sexually active
  • having trouble sleeping but not showing signs of fatigue or being tired
  • having a very short temper
  • having trouble staying focused, or being easily distracted

For teenagers, the more common symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • sleeping a lot or too little
  • eating too much or too little
  • feeling very sad and showing little excitability
  • withdrawing from activities and friends
  • thinking about death and suicide

Diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder can help teens live a healthy life.

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