by Kathleen Welch-Torres, Ph.D.

“Although bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in teens and young adults, it can occur at any age.”

The parts of children’s brains that regulate emotion are still developing, and growing up certainly has its ups and downs. So, mood swings that could be indicators of a mental health condition in adults are usually perfectly normal in children. However, some children experience episodes of activity, energy and stimulation much more so than others their age, followed by extreme “down” times, when they are sullen, lethargic and sad. This can be a sign of a mental health condition called early onset bipolar disorder. This mood disorder is also called childhood manic depression, and children who have it experience mood swings so severe, that they can struggle to function in school, maintain relationships, or remain involved in extracurricular activities.

Although bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in teens and young adults, it can occur at any age. It is a treatable condition, and early intervention gives children with the disorder the best chance of managing symptoms, becoming resilient and thriving. Symptoms of early-onset bipolar disorder vary from child to child, and it takes a professional children’s mental health provider to confirm a diagnosis. But, the National Institute on Mental Health identifies these signs of manic and depressive episodes:

CHILDREN AND TEENS HAVING A MANIC EPISODE MAY:

  • Feel very happy or act silly in a way that’s unusual for them and for other people their age
  • Have a very short temper
  • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
  • Have trouble sleeping but not feel tired
  • Have trouble staying focused
  • Talk and think about sex more often
  • Do risky things

CHILDREN AND TEENS HAVING A DEPRESSIVE EPISODE MAY:

  • Feel very sad
  • Complain about pain a lot, such as stomachaches and headaches
  • Sleep too little or too much
  • Feel guilty and worthless
  • Eat too little or too much
  • Have little energy and no interest in fun activities
  • Think about death or suicide

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior or mood, you can find support and help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician or mental health provider.

“Symptoms of early-onset bipolar disorder vary from child to child.”

CFGC TIPS

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD OR TEEN?

Help begins with the right diagnosis and treatment.

TIP #1

Be patient.

TIP #2

Encourage your child to talk, and listen to your child carefully.

TIP #3

Be understanding about mood episodes.

TIP #4

Help your child have fun.

TIP #5

Help your child understand that treatment can make life better.

If you are taking care of a child with bipolar disorder, take care of yourself too.