What Are The Signs Of Bipolar Disorder In Children?

Updated August 31, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You may think that bipolar disorder is an adult disease but bipolar in children is more common than you think. Although it is not as common as in older folks, bipolar disorder is found in about 3% of children in the United States. In fact, bipolar in kids have been seen in those as young as five years old and is called early-onset bipolar disorder. It is also known as pediatric bipolar disorder. It is thought that you can actually be born with bipolar disorder, but it takes a while to be able to recognize the symptoms.

Bipolar In Kids

Learn More About The Signs Of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar children typically have mood swings with periods of hyperactivity alternating with severe depression. However, because children have such a wide variety of moods and behavior, it may be difficult to notice that they have the condition. It can also be misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a behavioral or mood disorder. For example, when your child is actually having a period of mania, you may think they are just misbehaving or that they are hyperactive.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

To understand the bipolar symptoms in children, it is essential for you to know what bipolar disorder is. Also known as bipolar depression, the condition causes rapid mood swings from extreme lows to extreme highs. It is a group of symptoms that are typically due to an imbalance in the chemicals in the brain. It is a severe condition that makes going about daily activities very difficult. Although sometimes you can feel extremely energetic and can do all kinds of things, at other times you may not even be able to get out of bed. The signs of bipolar disorder in adults is different than signs of bipolar in children mainly because children have more erratic behavior and mood pattern than adults. Here are bipolar symptoms in children checklist.

Symptoms Of Bipolar Mania In Children

  • Not sleeping but have more energy than usual
  • Trouble staying focused
  • Doing whatever they want without concern for the consequences
  • Talking faster than usual
  • Moving from one topic to another
  • Irritability or aggressive
  • Acting sillier than usual

Symptoms Of Depression In Children

  • Acting or feeling more sad than usual for no reason
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Very little energy
  • No interest in fun activities
  • Feeling worthless or guilty (this is hard to determine with younger children)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Complaining of aches and pains
  • Complaints of nausea or vomiting

Symptoms In School Children

  • Impulsive behavior
  • Acting goofy
  • Becoming aggressive or angry for no reason
  • Trouble focusing on schoolwork
  • Unable to stay still
  • Cannot play or sit quietly
  • Behaving inappropriately
  • Acting out of control
  • Being more social than usual

If Your Child Has A Depressive Episode In School, It Would Look More Like:

  • Zoning out
  • Falling asleep during class
  • Complaining about feeling sick
  • Paranoia
  • Fear of classmates
  • Uninterested in playing or being with friends

What Is Different About The Signs Of Childhood Bipolar Disorder

Some of the bipolar symptoms in children under 10 can be vastly different than those in their teens. These symptoms vary with the age of the child and can become different as your child grows. For example, in younger children, you will typically see mood instability and irritability without mood swings. However, older children more often show paranoia, grandiosity, euphoria, and hyperactivity. You may also notice that your child is talking slower or faster than usual or cannot seem to make decisions or concentrate. It is more difficult to diagnose a child with bipolar disorder because often bipolar kids are too young to understand what is going on with them. They may feel differently than usual but have a difficult time communicating to adults or others about their feelings.

Different Types Of Bipolar Disorder

Another issue that can make early-onset bipolar disorder harder to diagnose is that there are several different types of the condition. Bipolar one disorder, bipolar two disorder, and cyclothymia are the three types of bipolar disorder and then there is the other category of all those who do not fit into the first three types. Here is a summary of each type of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar One Disorder

Learn More About The Signs Of Bipolar Disorder

This is the full-blown bipolar disorder that causes at least seven days of mania that may include hallucinations and delusions. This can alternate between periods of severe depression where the individual can barely get out of bed and has thoughts of suicide. In children, this can be seen as banging their head against the wall, cutting themselves, or putting a string or cord around their neck. Some people with the bipolar one disorder do not show signs of depression at all.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available 24/7, or you can text the word “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

Bipolar Two Disorder

To be diagnosed with bipolar two disorder, the individual has had at least one major depressive period lasting at least two weeks and a hypomanic period, but not a full-blown manic period. This form seems like a less intense form of bipolar one disorder, but it is different in the fact that children with this disorder can have depression and hypomania at the same time. Hypomania is a much lesser degree of mania and includes symptoms such as:

  • Feeling happier than usual
  • Being more productive or creative
  • Still able to continue with school and other activities
  • Talking more than usual
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Making bad decisions

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is similar to bipolar two disorder, but the periods of hypomania and depression change more rapidly than with bipolar two. The periods of elevated moods and depressive moods fluctuate more quickly and last for a period of at least two years. However, the episodes of hypomania and depression are not as severe as with bipolar one or two disorders. The person is never disconnected from reality and does not experience any psychosis or hallucinations.

What Are Psychosis And Hallucinations?

Some individuals with bipolar one disorder can have episodes of psychosis or hallucinations. Psychosis is defined as not being able to recognize what is real in the world around you. It is sometimes confused with schizophrenia and children with this symptom are often misdiagnosed. Hallucinations can be things that the individual hears or sees that are not really there. They can be hearing voices, which is another reason for a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia. Another type of psychosis is when the individual actually believes they are invincible or that someone is out to get them. With children, this may be ignored as just being an overactive imagination. However, these symptoms are serious and can cause them to hurt themselves or someone else.

Treatment For Psychosis And Hallucinations

If you happen to notice that your child or another family member is experiencing bipolar hallucinations or psychosis, it is vital that you take them to a doctor or hospital immediately. The child can quickly escalate into becoming violent or dangerous to themselves or others around them. The doctor will likely give the child some type of medication such as an antipsychotic drug such as aripiprazole (Abilify) or haloperidol (Haldol). Of course, this depends on the child's age. Those who are younger than 10 years old are not usually given this type of drug. There are other medications such as an antianxiety drug like clonazepam (Klonopin) or fluoxetine (Prozac).

Causes Of Early Onset Bipolar Disorder

Doctors and researchers are still trying to determine the actual cause of bipolar disorders, but many things can contribute to the condition. For example, it can be genetic. There is some proof that certain abnormal genes are the cause of bipolar disorders and other mental health conditions. Similarly, it can be hereditary. If your parent has bipolar disorder, you are almost 33% more likely to get the disorder. And if one of your siblings has been diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, your chances of getting the condition is even higher.

Other Possibilities

Another possible cause of the bipolar disorder is that the brain is not functioning properly, or the brain structure is abnormal. Scientists have been studying this but, unfortunately, the only way to study this is post-mortem. However, with more studies, experts can find better ways to diagnose and treat bipolar disorders in anyone of any age. Some other risk factors of bipolar disorder include:

  • Lifestyle choices of the parent such as doing drugs or drinking when pregnant or breastfeeding
  • A chemical imbalance in the brain
  • Hormonal changes (older children)
  • A stressful environment such as abuse or neglect
  • Being exposed to heavy metals during pregnancy or infancy
  • Allergies or chronic ear infections

Treating Early Onset Bipolar Disorder

Because your child is still developing, many medications cannot be used for their symptoms. However, there are many that can be very helpful such as mood stabilizers, and stimulant drugs usually given to children with ADHD. In addition to drug therapy, it is a good idea to make sure your child's lifestyle is stable and organized. Keeping a strict schedule of meals, playing, and sleeping can help a great deal.

Talk To Someone

Another type of therapy that can benefit both you and your child is psychotherapy or talk therapy. Therapy for your child can help them learn how to express what they are feeling and teach them ideas on how to counteract the negative emotions and symptoms they are feeling. Your child can actually do this from home with online therapy and you can benefit from this also. Those who care for children or loved ones with mental health conditions can develop anxiety or depressive disorders as well. Talk to a therapist online with BetterHelp today. You do not need an appointment and do not even have to go anywhere.

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