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Behavior, Parenting and Discipline > Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder in children can be very difficult to diagnose because it mimics (or exists with) other disorders (such as depression, ADHD, and anxiety). It is a brain disorder in which mood swings shift suddenly from very happy to very sad or irritable.

These are not the same as normal feelings moving from happy to sad. These mood changes are known as "episodes" and there are three basic kinds: manic, depressive, and mixed. Mixed episodes include both manic and depressive symptoms. Manic episodes are characterized with being overly silly or happy yet with a short temper and irritability. Depressive symptoms include sadness, loss of interest in activities, and a feeling of worthlessness. Sleep is disrupted: less sleep yet not tired during mania, and sleeping more and still tired during depression.

For more information regarding Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens, read the National Institute of Medical Health's parent's guide.

For more information regarding Bipolar Disorder in Adults, read the National Institute of Medical Health's detailed booklet.

Symptoms of Manic Episodes

A diagnosis for a manic episode includes either an elevated or an irritable mood lasting at least a week plus three or more of the following symptoms (symptoms that last less time might qualify for atypical mania):
  • Talking too fast or too much
  • Risky or impulsive behavior, like inappropriate sex talk or behavior or excessive spending sprees
  • Needing little sleep
  • Being easily distracted (attention shifts between many topics in just a few minutes)
  • Having an inflated feeling of power, greatness, or importance
  • Intense focus on goal-directed activity
  • Racing thoughts

Symptoms of Depressive Episodes

A diagnosis for a major depressive episode requires having a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in activities a person used to enjoy. In addition, four of the following symptoms must also be present nearly every day for at least two weeks:
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability, restlessness, or being slowed down
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Significant weight change
  • Thoughts about suicide or dying

Compared to adults, young people with Bipolar Disorder tend to have more mixed episodes, and are more prone to very rapid changes between high (manic) and low (depressive) moods.

Very Common Symptoms of Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder

  • Separation anxiety
  • Rages & explosive temper tantrums (lasting up to several hours)
  • Marked irritability
  • Oppositional behavior
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Distractibility
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Restlessness/ fidgetiness
  • Silliness, goofiness, giddiness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Grandiosity
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Depressed mood
  • Lethargy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Social anxiety
  • Oversensitivity to emotional or environmental triggers

Common Symptoms of Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder

  • Bed-wetting (especially in boys)
  • Night terrors
  • Rapid or pressured speech
  • Obsessional behavior
  • Excessive daydreaming
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Motor & vocal tics
  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Lack of organization
  • Fascination with gore or morbid topics
  • Hyper sexuality
  • Manipulative behavior
  • Bossiness
  • Lying
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Destruction of property
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations & delusions

Less Common Symptoms of Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder

  • Migraine headaches
  • Binging
  • Self-mutilating behaviors
  • Cruelty to animals

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