Most people have a few ideas about what bipolar disorder is and how it manifests in those affected – a rare mental illness that consists of alternating periods of mania and depression. These basics are true, but new evidence has arisen regarding the condition’s prevalence in children and adolescents that may surprise some parents and mental health professionals.
For many years, bipolar disorder was considered an adult illness, with symptoms first arising in the 20s. Recent research suggests bipolar disorder is more common in children and teens than previously thought, however. Some studies even suggest the disorder is equally common in teens as in adults.
In addition, symptoms of bipolar disorder appear to manifest slightly differently in kids than adults, which can cause a delay in diagnosis of several years. Children tend to have a greater mix of symptoms, more frequent mood swings, and more regular symptoms. There are multiple forms of bipolar disorder that may develop in children (some of which may significantly impair a child’s ability to function in school or social situations), but many kids are misdiagnosed with conditions such as ADHD or depression.
If you suspect your child many have bipolar disorder, discuss your concerns with a mental health professional. Request that a clinical specialist rigorously apply bipolar diagnostic evaluations with your child if your child exhibits the following bipolar symptoms:
- Extreme mood swings, in rapid succession or over periods of a few days to weeks
- Periods of excessive silliness, happiness, or hyperactivity that are disruptive to school or home activities
- Periods of extreme sadness and withdrawal from friends and family
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
Some children and adolescents also exhibit symptoms indicative of other mental or social problems, such as social or separation anxiety, general depression, ADD or ADHD, and substance abuse.
Parents should also let a mental health specialist know if bipolar disorder has been diagnosed in a relative of the child. Kids with siblings or parents who have bipolar disorder may be at greater risk of developing the disorder themselves, especially if the relative first exhibited symptoms as a child or teen.
Katie Brind’Amour, MS, is a Certified Health Education Specialist and freelance health and wellness writer focusing on pregnancy and diabetes education. She enjoys blogging about friendship and life in the not-so-fast lane while she chips away at her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy.