According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), bipolar disorder can occur in children as young as age six. Researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are now working to discover more effective interventions for children.

Bipolar disorder has become a more 'popular' diagnosis for children today than it was just a few short years ago, when parents had to struggle to attain the diagnosis for their children, and/or their children were misdiagnosed.

For example, many children with bipolar disorder were misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) because of its similarity to the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

Although children with ADHD might exhibit some similar symptoms as bipolar disorder (hyperactivity, irritability, and distractibility), they usually do not show the symptoms of elated mood, decreased need of sleep, flight of ideas, grandiose behaviors, and hyper-sexuality that are characteristic of bipolar disorder.

Whatever the reasons for its more frequent diagnosis, many families today are facing this issue. Children with bipolar disorder have significant (and often frequent) mood fluctuations. Their moods and behaviors, the symptoms of their disorder, can switch repeatedly from elation to deep sadness within a very short period of time.

Bipolar disorder in children is diagnosed based on assessment (self, parent, and school reports), observation, and clinical interviews with the parents and the child; however, they are still being diagnosed using the criteria for adults with bipolar disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) that psychiatrists use to diagnose patients with a mental disorder.

One of the differences between adults and children with bipolar disorder is that an adult in the manic phase of the disorder may display a euphoric mood; whereas, a child might be irritable and have destructive outbursts. Children with bipolar disorder can also cycle downward into serious depression and could have the previously described up-down mood fluctuations multiple times a day.

Doctors usually prescribe medication for children with bipolar disorder, although not much evidence exists yet to suggest which the best medication to use is. Using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as part of their treatment may help children develop self-awareness and coping skills.

Bipolar disorder does tend to run in families. Therefore, if someone in your family does have bipolar disorder and you see the signs/symptoms of the disorder being exhibited by your child, you may want to seek evaluation and diagnosis by a doctor or psychiatrist for your child.