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Recognizing Bipolar Disorder Symptoms in Children

Bipolar disorder which was once considered primarily an adult mental health condition is increasingly recognized in children and adolescents. Understanding and identifying bipolar disorder symptoms in children is crucial for timely intervention and effective management. 

While the presentation of bipolar disorder in children may differ from that in adults, awareness of the signs and symptoms can lead to early diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Mood Swings

One of the hallmark bipolar disorder symptoms in children is extreme mood swings. These swings can vary from intense periods of elation and happiness (mania) to profound sadness and hopelessness (depression). Unlike typical mood fluctuations seen in children, bipolar mood swings are more severe, prolonged, and disruptive to daily functioning.


Children with bipolar disorder often exhibit chronic irritability, which can manifest as frequent tantrums, outbursts of anger, or aggression. This irritability may not always be accompanied by clearly elevated or depressed moods, making it challenging to distinguish from other behavioral disorders.

Children with bipolar disorder symptoms will typically cycle between the two major symptoms faster than most adults do. In this video, we will start with several different signs of mania because that’s where much of a bipolar diagnosis stems from. They often exhibit chronic irritability, manifesting as frequent tantrums, outbursts of anger, or aggression.

Changes in Energy Levels

Fluctuations in energy levels are also common bipolar disorder symptoms in children. During manic episodes, children may display heightened energy levels, increased talkativeness, and impulsivity. Conversely, during depressive episodes, they may experience fatigue, lethargy, and difficulties in concentration and motivation.

Changes in Sleep Patterns

Disturbances in sleep patterns are prevalent among children with bipolar disorder. During manic episodes, children may require less sleep and feel rested despite reduced rest, while during depressive episodes, they may experience insomnia or excessive sleepiness.

Impaired Judgment and Risky Behavior

Manic episodes in children with bipolar disorder can lead to impaired judgment and risky behavior. This may include engaging in dangerous activities, reckless spending, or involvement in inappropriate sexual behaviors.

Difficulty in Concentration and School Performance

Bipolar disorder can significantly impact a child’s academic performance and social interactions. Children may experience difficulties in concentrating, completing tasks, and maintaining relationships due to mood instability and associated symptoms.

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Psychologists are still trying to pinpoint what bipolar disorder looks like in kids because the symptoms can manifest differently than they do in adults. It’s widespread for children to be misdiagnosed and treated for things like ADHD or generalized depression until symptoms inevitably get worse. Keep in mind that Bipolar Disorder is a progressive illness – which means it can get worse if it’s not treated.

Physical Symptoms

Some children with bipolar disorder may also exhibit physical bipolar disorder symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or other unexplained ailments. These symptoms may be a manifestation of underlying psychological distress.

Suicidal Thoughts or Behaviors

In severe cases of bipolar disorder, particularly during depressive episodes, children may experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harming behaviors. Any indication of suicidal ideation or self-harm should be taken seriously and addressed promptly by a mental health professional.

It’s important to note that not all children with bipolar disorder will exhibit the same symptoms, and the severity and frequency of symptoms can vary greatly among individuals.

Additionally, symptoms may overlap with other psychiatric conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), further complicating diagnosis.

If you suspect that your child may be experiencing bipolar disorder symptoms, it’s essential to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. A comprehensive evaluation, including a thorough medical and psychiatric assessment, can aid in accurate diagnosis and development of an appropriate treatment plan. Early intervention, which may include psychotherapy, medication, and family support, can significantly improve outcomes and help children with bipolar disorder lead fulfilling lives.

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