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Adults with bipolar disorder are more likely to have children with the condition. However, careful evaluation by a qualified healthcare professional is necessary, as bipolar disorder in children and adolescents can be hard to distinguish from other problems that may occur in these age groups. Once bipolar disorder is diagnosed, appropriate treatment can begin.

Children and Bipolar Disorder: An Introduction

Both children and adolescents can develop bipolar disorder. Children whose parents have the condition are more likely to develop it themselves.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Children

Unlike many adults with bipolar disorder, whose episodes tend to be more clearly defined, children and young adolescents with bipolar disorder often experience fast mood swings between depression and mania many times within a day. Children with mania are more likely to be irritable and prone to destructive tantrums than to be overly happy and elated. Mixed symptoms also are common in youths with bipolar disorder. Older adolescents who develop the condition may have more classic, adult-type episodes and symptoms.

Separating Bipolar Disorder From Other Problems in Children

Bipolar disorder in children and adolescents can be hard to tell apart from other problems that may occur in these age groups. For example, while irritability and aggressiveness can indicate this condition in children, they also can be symptoms of:
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Other types of mental disorders more common among adults, such as major depression or schizophrenia
  • Drug abuse.
For any illness, however, effective treatment depends on appropriate diagnosis. Children or adolescents with emotional and behavioral symptoms should be carefully evaluated by a mental health professional. Any child or adolescent who has suicidal feelings, talks about suicide, or attempts suicide should be taken seriously and should receive immediate help from a mental health specialist.
Once bipolar disorder in children is recognized, the appropriate treatment can begin.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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