NOTE: The following article will be a several-part series. This first part will simply cover the introductory information on this disorder, with subsequent articles covering symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, medication, etc. Please note that the terms Pediatric Bipolar Disorder and Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder are interchangeable and refer to the same disorder.

Bipolar Disorder is a serious, but treatable, mental illness. It is a medical illness – a disorder of the brain (a chemical imbalance) marked by extreme changes in mood, thinking, energy, and behavior.

Symptoms of this disorder may be present since infancy or early childhood, or they may suddenly emerge in adolescence or adulthood.

Until recent years, a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder was rarely made in childhood; however, doctors now recognize and treat this disorder in children as young as toddlers – called Pediatric Bipolar Disorder or Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder.

Early diagnosis, intervention, and treatment offer the best chance for children with Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder to achieve stability; to gain the best possible level of wellness and maturity; to grow up and enjoy their specific gifts and talents; and to build upon their personal strengths.

Proper treatment for Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder can minimize the adverse effects of the disorder on the lives of these children and the lives of those who love them.

How common is Pediatric Bipolar Disorder (Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder)?

There is no statistical answer to this question, but the numbers are growing every day. Because Bipolar Disorder does affect over five million adults worldwide, the more we learn about the disorder, the more prevalent it appears to be among children and adolescents. For instance:

  • About 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the population age 18 and older in any given year, have Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar Disorder typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, some people have their first symptoms during childhood…
  • It is suspected that a significant number of children diagnosed in the United States with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) actually have Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder instead of, or along with, ADHD.
  • Depression in children and teens is usually chronic and relapsing. According to several studies, a significant proportion of the 3.4 million children and adolescents with depression in the United States may actually be experiencing the early onset of Bipolar Disorder, but have not yet experienced the manic phase of the illness.
  • Findings from a study supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) suggest that Bipolar Disorder may be at least as common among youth as among adults. In this study, 1% of adolescents ages 14 to 18 were found to have met criteria for Bipolar Disorder or cyclothymia, a similar but milder illness, in their lifetime.

As you can tell, Pediatric Bipolar Disorder (Early-Onset Bipolar Disorder) is more prevalent than earlier considered. If you think your child or adolescent may have this disorder, watch for next month’s article, which will list the symptoms of the disorder.