According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a serious brain illness. Children with bipolar disorder go through unusual mood changes. Sometimes they feel very happy or “up” and are much more energetic and active than usual or than other kids their age. This is called a manic episode. Sometimes children with bipolar disorder feel very sad and “down” and are much less active than usual. This is called depression or a depressive episode.
Bipolar disorder is not the same as the normal ups and downs every kid goes through; bipolar symptoms are more powerful. The mood swings are more extreme and are accompanied by changes in sleep, energy level, the ability to think clearly, and often last for extended periods of time. Bipolar symptoms are strong; they can make it hard for a child to do well in school or get along with friends and family members. The illness can also be dangerous. Some young people with bipolar disorder try to hurt themselves or attempt suicide.
Children and teens with bipolar disorder should get treatment. With help, they can manage their symptoms and lead successful lives.
What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar “mood episodes” include unusual mood changes along with unusual sleep habits, activity levels, thoughts, or behavior. In a child, these mood and activity changes must be very different from their usual behavior and from the behavior of other children. A person with bipolar disorder may have manic episodes, depressive episodes, or “mixed” episodes. A mixed episode has both manic and depressive symptoms. These mood episodes cause symptoms that last a week or two or sometimes longer. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day.
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
Learn more about bipolar disorder at the National Institute of Mental Health’s website.