Bipolar Disorder in Children

Bipolar Disorder in Children

Last update: 04 July, 2018

According to the World Health Organization, mental illnesses are becoming more common worldwide. There has even been an increase in the cases of bipolar disorder in children.

What is bipolar disorder in children?

It’s difficult to detect this condition due to the nature of children‘s behavior. It’s usually diagnosed as attention deficit, hyperactivity or depression.

Some years ago, experts argued that the immaturity of children’s mental structure made it impossible for them to suffer from mood disorders. Currently, however, bipolar disorder in children is more and more common. 

Mood changes, irritability and lack of attention can all be taken as age-appropriate behaviors. This means that the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children is often delayed, and therefore treatment as well.

When these behaviors come together and increase in frequency, it should be seen as a sign to consult a specialist.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, has a list of diagnostic criteria. The presence of three criteria with high frequency, together with irritability, can point to bipolar disorder in children.

These criteria are:

  • Talking too much
  • Decreased sleep
  • Accelerated thinking
  • Easily distracted
  • Agitation or hyperactivity
  • Self-esteem that is too high
  • Constant search for activities that cause pleasure, even if they involve danger

Frequent symptoms of bipolar disorder in children

Sudden changes in mood: They go from euphoric to sad in a matter of hours. You can also notice changes in their energy levels. They go from doing their normal activities to feeling tired and not wanting to do things they generally like.

Tantrums, uncontrolled joy, irritability or neglecting homework can be signs of bipolar disorder in children.

  • Anxiety. Anxiety in children is not normal. A child in a constant state of tension, unable to control himself or herself, or having difficulty sleeping can all be signs of anxiety. Being distracted and jumping from one task to another can also be warning signs.
  • Accelerated thinking. They speak in an unclear way and can appear confused when speaking. The speed of thought can make it difficult for them to find words to express themselves, which can be confused with language disorders. The hyperactivity of their thinking can cause these children to hallucinate or experience delusions.
  • Changes in behavior. The appearance of manic episodes can lead to changes in children’s behavior. They can become rebellious, unable to follow orders and start conflicts with adults.

Alterations and changes in behavior

  • Psychophysiological alterations. The inability to sleep is one of the manifestations of bipolar disorder in children. Another alteration is the loss of appetite that leads to weight loss.
  • Reckless actions. Excess energy can lead children to act without thinking about the consequences. Many times, these activities involve physical risk, and others may be of a sexual nature.
  • Self-destructive tendencies. Children who are sad and self-critical must be evaluated. Self-injury should also alert you to the possibility of bipolar disorder.
  • Uncontrolled attitudes. Another symptom of bipolar disorder in children is the inability to control certain attitudes. When being the class clown happens at a certain level and the child bursts with laughter uncontrollably, alarms must go off.

Individuality in the disorder

Bipolar disorder doesn’t affect all children in the same way. The symptoms will vary according to age, so the treatment will be different in each case.

The stabilization of symptoms is achieved with adequate medication after a thorough evaluation. The treatment will require not only medication, but also psychotherapy and parent training.

With the proper treatment, this condition can be managed and the number of episodes and their duration can be reduced.

Children with bipolar disorder must be educated in a special way. With good management of the situation, they can enjoy long periods of well being.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Estrada-jaramillo, S., Zapata-barco, A. M., Botero-franco, D., Tamayo, L. A., & Palacio, J. D. (2009). Trastorno afectivo bipolar en niños. Revista Colombiana de Psiquiatría.
  • Muñoz Tamayo, R. (1999). Trastorno bipolar en niños y adolescentes. Rev Colomb Psiquiatr.
  • Podawiltz, A. (2012). Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.