Bipolar Disorder: Children

Bipolar disorder is most often diagnosed in adults, but diagnosis of the disorder in children and adolescents is becoming more and more common. According to information from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), studies funded by the federal government have looked at bipolar disorder in children as young as six years of age and found that around 7% of children receiving treatment through psychiatric facilities fit the criteria set forth for bipolar disorder by the research standards--a relatively high percentage, considering bipolar in children was thought to be very rare.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing bipolar disorder in children is difficult and controversial. The number of such diagnoses has increased in recent years, and there is disagreement over the criteria used for making a diagnosis as well as concern over the possible over-diagnosis of the disorder. Some people think it is best to follow the DSM-IV-TR’s criteria for bipolar disorder in adults when diagnosing children, while others believe that additional criteria should be taken into account to accurately separate children with bipolar from those with other mental or behavioral problems.

Common Symptoms

Children with bipolar disorder have alternating manic and depressive episodes like adults, but often experience them in more rapid succession, frequently experiencing both types of mood daily or even simultaneously. Manic episodes tend to present as irritability, with hyperactive behaviors, excessive silliness or aggressiveness, and dangerous or reckless behavior. A manic child may sleep very little, talk constantly and rapidly, and be easily distracted and restless. These symptoms are more extreme than the similar symptoms seen with ADHD, and children with bipolar disorder commonly swing from these manic symptoms to a state of depression, in which they are morose and sometimes suicidal.

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