Bipolar Disorder in Children

Bipolar disorder affects people of all ages, including children as young as six. The disorder has periods of elevated mood, called mania, as well as periods of depression.

Common symptoms in children are:

  • Mood swings ranging from depression to irritability to elation, sometimes up to several times a day
  • Racing thoughts (while manic)
  • Hyperactive or aggressive behavior
  • Casual sex or spending sprees that are out of character
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Inflated ego
  • Suicidal ideation in older children
  • Separation anxiety
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Difficulty waking in the mornings
  • Oversensitivity to emotional situations
  • Bed-wetting (especially in boys)
  • Obsession with gore or other socially inappropriate topics
  • Night terrors

 

children
Credit to flickr.com user Vladimir Pustovit. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Symptoms in children look slightly different than those of adults. Children can be more irritable than adults during a manic phase, with less elevated mood, and are more likely to experience psychotic features, such as auditory hallucinations. As for depression, children are more likely to complain about physical pain. Between episodes, kids return to their normal mood. Something of note is that they cycle between these episodes several times a day, as opposed to weeks or months.

Some experts believe the disorder is rare and thus over-diagnosed; others believe the opposite, so there’s little agreement. It’s also difficult to diagnose the disorder in children, because symptoms can overlap with other diagnoses like conduct disorders or Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD)–which can occur in conjunction with bipolar disorder, making an accurate diagnosis even more tricky.

So, if you suspect your child has bipolar disorder, please speak with a mental health professional specializing in disorders in children. Ask your pediatrician for recommendations.

Stay tuned for next week’s post: What to do if Your Child has Bipolar Disorder.

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