8 Signs Your Child Might Have Bipolar Disorder

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An evaluation by a child/adolescent psychiatrist is the first step to a bipolar diagnosis. Here are eight symptoms that could warrant a visit to a mental health professional:

#1 Manic Episodes

Some signs your child may be experiencing mania, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP): Unrealistic highs in self-esteem, such as feelings of having special superhero powers; increases in energy and decreased need for sleep, or being able to go with little sleep for days without feeling tired; rapid thinking and talking and repeated high risk-taking behavior, such as sexual promiscuity, reckless driving, or abusing alcohol and drugs.

#2 Depressive Episodes

The AACAP describes this abnormal state for children or teens as having low energy, fatigue, poor concentration and decreased enjoyment in favorite activities; decreased appetite or major change in eating habits; complaints of physical illnesses, such as stomach aches and headaches and thoughts of death or suicide.

#3 Anger and Rage

All children get angry periodically, but for children and adolescents with bipolar disorder they tend to feel anger on a very intense level. This can manifest into violenc, possibly attacking others or destroying their toys. Because children with bipolar anger are usually are not able to control their outbursts, these emotions turn into severe rage that can last for hours.

#4 Severe fluctuations in mood

Bipolar children are more likely to have rapid cycling, moving back and forth between a depressed mood and a manic mood over a shorter period of time or even within the same day. It’s common to see a pattern of severe fluctuations in mood, energy and daily routines, which lead to difficulty in functioning in school, with friends, or at home, says Helena Verdeli, PhD, assistant prof. of clinical psychology at Columbia University.

#5 Flights of Fancy

Although less common than symptoms of rage and anger, children and teens do experience elation, grandiosity or mania and this could be a key signal in an initial assessment, says bipolar research expert Eric Youngstrom, PhD. He asks parents if their child is being overly giddy and goofy at unexpected times, like bedtime and first thing in the morning, and whether “the elation is happening too often, too intensely or lasting too long.”

#6 Family Connection

“Most of the kids have a family history of mood disorder or bipolarity,” according to child psychiatrist Dr. Rosalie Greenberg. The chances of developing bipolar disorder are increased if a child’s parents or siblings have the disorder. But the role of genetics is not absolute and a child from a family with a history of bipolar disorder may never develop the disorder.

#7 Changes at school

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, symptoms in teens point to school issues. They may experience a drop in grades, quit sports teams or other activities, be suspended from school or arrested for fighting or drug use, engage in risky sexual behavior or talk about death or even suicide. Talk with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to determine if they are seeing similar behaviors at school as what you’re seeing at home.

#8 Differences in similar illnesses

Mental health professionals may need to sift out bipolar disorder from other look-alike symptoms of illnesses. “For example, if a child with ADD has insomnia, they will be tired the next day; a child with bipolar [who didn’t sleep] won’t feel a need for sleep,” explains Benjamin Goldstein, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto. Hypersexuality is another bipolar marker, as it is a symptom of mania but not characteristic of ADD.

 

 

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196 Comments
  1. Kristi. I have an 8 yr old son whom I am 100% sure is bi polar.
    I’m so worried for his present and future. I’m scared for him and I know he’s scared too.
    Pangulu, I feel my son has been this way since he was very very young aswell and I have footage of all his manic episodes over the yrs.
    He used to go to play therapy when he was 2-5 years old and he is starting to see somone at the end of this month but I am convinced I have this figured out. I am nervous to tell the psychologist what I think.
    How would you all bring it up without sounding like I’m trying to do her job or like a diagnosis happy know it all.

    1. Your son sound like my niece been waiting and waiting for years for help and she has been this way since she was 3-4 yrs old has had play therapy for 3 yrs on special time table at school not coping manic episode at school abusive towards myself my sister and teachers has no safety awareness and has self harmed every day for years and now has started stated she wants to die awaiting assessment from psychologist however what happens in meantime while we are on this waiting list

  2. I need help. I am 12 and am not sure if I’m bipolar. I have had what I think are depressive episodes and manic episodes. This is something that was existent when I was younger but got increasingly worse when my parents got divorced. My mom always says I’m an old soul, but I think it’s something else. I think I have the capacity to be an A grade student, but I find it hard to concentrate and get my work done. When I do get my work done, I still feel this guilt that I feel pretty much all the time. I guess what I’m trying to say is, do I need to seek help?

    1. Hello My name is Julia and I’m in the same position as you. I’m about 40% That i am bipolar and i need help to see if i actually do or not. Ive seen it in myself when i have random outburst and some depressing episodes and manic episodes and its just crazy. Ive been more and more self aware of these things but i cant stop nor control myself when having these episodes, Thank you for helping me realize I’m not the only 12 yr old on a comp. or phone reading this nonsense of my paragraph.

    2. Hi, Theo! I just happened to come across your message while reading this website. I’m a therapist in California. Please, do seek help and support for your symptoms. A combination of medication and therapy (particularly Dialectical Behavior Therapy) can be life changing, and the sooner you start, the easier your teen years will be. Going through divorce is already challenging, being a student is already challenging, but having untreated bipolar on top of it makes everything several times more difficult. You’re already being wonderfully proactive in researching bipolar. Please, talk with your parents about getting more support, medications, and therapy. You’ll be doing your future self a huge favor. 🙂

      1. Thank you for reading this, I plan to talk to my mom sometime soon. It is encouraging to know someone is listening.

  3. I have bipolar disorder. I think it started when I was a baby. But nobody believed me when I say I am not functioning properly. At age of 15 I struggled a lot to study but I scored a 100% in final exam but the situation got worse after that. I can no longer study, interact or speak, I even forgot to spell my name. My parents never believed what I said. My younger sister always drive me crazy. I had many triggers from her but my parents supported her because she is younger. When I was 17 I have decided to suicide after my final exam. But then I got a novel, from God maybe, it tells the story of a girl having bipolar disorder. I am the one who said to my doctor that I have bipolar disorder and he believed me and now I am under medication. Now I am 22, got married for love and have a 7 months old baby. Still I am struggling and hoping to get better and study further. I have a humble request that please help your child to get a better life, and please don’t think about the social stigma, try to keep it within your family and concelt a doctor. Love can cure everything.

    1. I have a 18 YO girl. She was diagnosed with mild ADD when she was 12. I’m concerned because she has “always” lied. The lies are blatantly obvious, she even lies about the lie I saw and known for a fact catching her in it. I was wondering if that is a symptom of BP? She also leaves the house late at night to “clear her thoughts” then comes back in to sleep around 4-5Am. She has boughts of depression and feels she should talk to someone but doesn’t follow through. Can someone verify if I should be concerned. She’s adopted and her birth mother had issues and also became a drug attic years latter. She has a half sister who had a very bad case of ADD too. We have no contect with them.
      Thanks,
      Lynn

    2. You’re very welcome, Theo! Please don’t ever be shy to ask for help, and please keep advocating for yourself if you ever feel like no one is listening. Someone will. You matter in this world, you have value, and attending to your mental health will assist you in being able to bring your own unique gifts and talents to the world. 🙂

      1. I am 54 and think I am bipolar. My mom was diagnosed. Thought I was add but I have spells of clear thinking and comprehension as a biomedical engineer. I recently went through an episode that leads me to think I have type 2 bipolar. And now that I am becoming educated on it I feel my son is. His symptoms as a child include depression. Anger management. Difficulty with school yet at times very successful academically. He is now 21 and feels weed is the cure all. Just like I self medicated with moderate alcohol to cope since 14. I don’t ant him to lose time in life as I did.

    3. Pangulu- Thank you for encouraging me to continue to be an advocate for my 9 year old son as we navigate through the mental health system. He has been in therapy since last summer, but I have left that therapist when they thought he just has anger issues and said just encourage him to talk about his feelings .. what? I know there’s something more serious, his grades plummeted this year and he is having more anger outbursts. We seem to have found the right provider now, but the process is long. Thank you for encouraging me to keep fighting and work towards a better life for him. So happy to hear you are doing so well!

    4. Pangulu, please also have your thyroid checked. I wish you the best.

    5. God bless you! Your struggle should not have been so hard but I am so happy you made it through. I hope and pray for your continued health and prosperity.

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