Bipolar disorder can occur in children as young as age 6, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Researchers are working to discover effective interventions for children. Bipolar disorder seems to be the diagnosis 'du jour' -- much as ADHD was in the recent past.

Whatever the reasons, many families today are facing this issue. These children have significant (and often frequent) mood fluctuations. Moods and behaviors may switch from elated to morose repeatedly within a very short period of time.Bipolar disorder is diagnosed based on assessment (self, parent, and school reports), observation, and a clinical interviews of parents and child. Children with ADHD may exhibit some similar symptoms (irritability, hyperactivity, and distractibility), but do not usually show elated mood, grandiose behaviors, flight of ideas, decreased need for sleep, and hyprersexuality.

Children with bipolar disorder cycle downward into serious depression and may have these up-down cycles multiple times a day. Children may be irritable and have destructive outbursts when manic rather than displaying the euphoric mood often seen in adults with the disorder. Suicide is a serious risk and any mention must be taken seriously.


National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental HealthNIMH

Doctors usually prescribe medication for children with bipolar disorder, although not much evidence exists yet to suggest what might work best for kids. There are 3 kinds of drugs considered for adults with bipolar disorder: lithium; anticonvulsants (such as Depakote); and a newer class of atypical neuroleptics. A physician must carefully monitor and manage these medications in children.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy may help children develop self-awareness and coping skills. In addition, home and school environmental modifications may help a child be more successful. Remember that a child with a diagnosis is still a child and needs love and support more than ever.

A final note: mood disorders tend to run in families. If you recognize yourself or another loved one in your child’s eyes, be sure to seek evaluation and intervention. A healthy parent is better equipped to help a struggling child.