Facts for Families on Bipolar Disorder

Adapted from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP)

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depressive illness) is an illness of the brain that causes extreme changes in a person’s mood, energy, thinking, and behavior. Children with bipolar disorder have periods (or episodes) of mania and depression.

Manic Episodes: An episode of mania includes a period where someone’s mood has changed and it is extremely elevated (overly happy), expansive, or very irritable and the person also has increased energy at the same time. Symptoms of mania can also include a decreased need for sleep, increase in talking, distractibility, and repeated high-risk behavior.

Depressive Episodes: Children and adolescents who have bipolar disorder may also experience periods of depression. An episode of depression includes low, depressed, or irritable mood. Other symptoms may include decreased enjoyment of favorite activities, low energy level or fatigue, changes to sleeping patterns, changes to eating habits, and sharing thoughts of death or suicide.

Many of these symptoms are similar to those that occur in children and adolescents with other conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance use disorder, major depressive disorder (depression), other mood disorders, or even schizophrenia. That’s why it’s so important to have your child evaluated by their pediatrician and/or a trained behavioral health professional to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Bipolar disorder can begin in childhood or during the teenage years. The illness can affect anyone. However, if one or both parents have bipolar disorder, the chances are greater that their children may develop the disorder.

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children and teens is complex and involves careful observation over an extended period of time. A comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist or trained behavioral/mental health professional can help identify bipolar disorder and is the first step to starting treatment.

Children and teenagers with bipolar disorder can be effectively treated and go on to live successful and fulfilling lives. Treatment for bipolar disorder usually includes education of the patient and the family about the condition, mood stabilizing medications, and psychotherapy.

To learn more about bipolar disorder in children and adolescents and find additional resources, visit the AACAP page at the link below.