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.

To learn more about bipolar disorder in children, view the National Institute of Mental Health’s child and teen bipolar handbook for parents or’s online Bipolar Resource Center.


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.

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2 Responses to “What parents need to know about bipolar disorder”

  1. Jen Says:

    I don’t believe that bi-polar depression is remotely rare. I believe many people have it to varying degrees or something extremely similar that manifests in a different way, such as obsessive compulsive disorder. It is good that mental health professionals are recognizing that this disorder/chemical makeup manifests itself earlier than previously suspected. I can look back and see many symptoms in my own childhood that now I might recognize in others.

  2. Healthcare Information System Says:

    Thanks for sharing the information about the bipolar mental disorder. People suffering from bipolar disorder, get angry immediately and become more violent to attract others attention. The person may go to out of control state in anytime. It is believed that such type of diseases develops from the childhood.

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