Symptoms of bipolar disorder in children

A child with bipolar disorder experiences episodes of mania and depression or mixed states, which can greatly interfere with daily functioning. Typical symptoms include the following.

Mania may cause a child to:

  • Have severe mood changes, from being extremely irritable to overly silly or happy.
  • Have inflated self-esteem or confidence.
  • Have increased energy.
  • Have a decreased need for sleep without tiring for days.
  • Talk too much or too fast, changing topics rapidly.
  • Be easily distracted.
  • Have increased thoughts about sex or use of sexual language.
  • Be overly focused on reaching a goal or be physically agitated.
  • Participate in risky behavior or activities.

Depression may cause a child to:

  • Be continuously sad or irritable.
  • Lose interest in daily activities or hobbies.
  • Have a significant change in appetite or weight.
  • Have difficulty sleeping or oversleep.
  • Have a loss of energy.
  • Move slowly.
  • Feel guilty or worthless.
  • Have difficulty concentrating.
  • Have recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Manic children may be more irritable and prone to temper tantrums than manic adults, who are more likely to be elated or have high energy during these episodes. In a depressive episode, children may complain of headaches, muscle aches, or stomachaches or being tired. They often miss school or talk about running away from home. They become socially isolated and sensitive to any kind of rejection or criticism. A child or teen with bipolar disorder may abuse alcohol or drugs and have difficulty with relationships.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder in children may be confused with those of other disorders, such as depression. These symptoms often occur along with another disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Children who develop bipolar disorder before adolescence may have a more severe form of the illness.

Last Updated: March 14, 2008

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