Bipolar disorder is a serious medical condition marked by unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
If you have bipolar disorder or have a history of bipolar disorder in your family, you may be concerned that your child could have bipolar disorder. It can be extremely scary to think that your young child could be battling something as serious as bipolar disorder. Your first instinct is always to protect your child from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, you can’t stop them from developing mental health disorders. But you can help them get the treatment they need.
Bipolar disorder is rarely diagnosed in children. In fact, bipolar disorder is often not diagnosed until people are in their early 20s and their brains have finished developing. At such a young age, it can often be difficult to rule out other potential causes of their behavior, like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other behavioral health issues.
However, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, bipolar disorder may be at least as common among minors in the U.S. as it is in adults. They estimate that as many as one-third of all children diagnosed with major depressive disorder may actually have bipolar disorder.
In addition, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance suggests that if one parent has bipolar disorder, the risk to a child is about 15% to 30%, but if both parents have bipolar disorder, that risk increases to about 50% to 75% for any one of the children they have together. Behaviors associated with bipolar disorder can be passed down through genes as well as the child modeling parent behavior.
If you or someone you love is living with bipolar disorder, it’s important to know you’re not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2.8% of the adult U.S. population suffered from bipolar disorder during the years studied (2001-2003). And mental illness like this is no stranger to the Lone Star State. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, more than 3.3 million Texans suffer from a mental illness.
If you’re afraid that your child has bipolar disorder, doing research like this is an important first step. You are in the right place.
Now let’s take a look at seven of the most common signs of bipolar disorder in children.
One thing that is fairly unique to children who develop bipolar disorder before adulthood is that they tend to cycle much more quickly than adults with the same disorder. Children with bipolar disorder have quite a bit of trouble regulating their emotions.
It is very common for a child who has bipolar disorder to go from extremely excited to extremely angry to extremely sad all in one day. These are not the typical mood swings you see from other children. These are extreme changes that may have very minor triggers or appear to have no cause at all.
As part of their difficulty regulating their emotions, children who have bipolar disorder tend to have explosive tempers. They may even have fits of rage. This is not like a regular tantrum from a child. This is extreme anger and outbursts. This may be screaming and yelling or even violence.
Many people underestimate the physical violence children are capable of. Children with bipolar disorder may be overwhelming or difficult for caregivers to handle when they have violent outbursts. If you are feeling like you don’t know what to do when your child has an explosive meltdown, it is important for you to know that your child is also struggling and can get better when they receive the treatment they need.
Another common characteristic of bipolar disorder in children is oppositional behavior. Oppositional behavior is when a child refuses to do what they are told by an authority figure. Of course, some oppositional behavior is a normal part of raising any child. However, this would not be a typical amount of oppositional behavior.
This type of behavior would be very intense and almost constant. Giving your child any kind of directions may feel like a constant uphill battle. It may feel like no matter what you do, you always feel like not only do they not listen, but they actively refuse to follow instructions, do the opposite of what you asked them to do, or find a way to be resistant.
As a symptom of their manic episodes, children who are suffering from bipolar disorder often go through periods of rapid speech. During these episodes, children may talk constantly, like they can’t get the words out fast enough.
Sometimes, parents mistake rapid speech for a child being simply hyperactive or chatty. But this rapid speech may appear out of nowhere without any apparent cause. It may also disappear just as quickly as it started.
Another symptom of manic episodes is extreme giddiness. While all children are happy and hyper, this would be different from the giddiness that other children have. They would be extremely hyperactive and excitable. This behavior would often come out of nowhere.
They could even go from being intensely angry or sad to being suddenly giddy. This may be a temperament that you find yourself looking forward to or even relaxing a little bit when your child is experiencing it. You might feel like “at least your child is happy for once.” It is sometimes a welcome relief from more aggravating behavior.
Separation anxiety occurs in children for many different reasons. Just because a child has separation anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean they have bipolar disorder. However, children who have bipolar disorder often have separation anxiety when they are separated from parents, other caregivers, or comfort items.
Children with bipolar disorder have a lot of trouble regulating their emotions. While many children struggle with emotional regulation, it is exceptionally difficult for children with bipolar disorder. When children with bipolar are separated from the people, places, and things that make them feel comfortable, handling their emotions is even more difficult.
Children with bipolar disorder who are having symptoms of mania often need less sleep than other children their age. They may struggle to sleep through the night or even not be able to stay down for naps during the day. They likely say that they don’t even feel tired, often leaving parents to wonder how that is even possible given how little sleep they’ve gotten.
A child with bipolar disorder may later crash and sleep for an extended amount of time. This could be a sign of the manic symptoms of bipolar disorder.
While many children don’t want to take the time to sleep, children with bipolar disorder usually do this in the extreme. It would be much more intense than with other siblings or children their age.
There is no specific test for bipolar disorder, and bipolar disorder is often more difficult to diagnose in children. It typically doesn’t show up until early adulthood, so symptoms of bipolar disorder are often overlooked in children.
Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed based on behavioral traits, mood, and sleep patterns. It is also important that doctors get the family medical history, as well as the child’s own medical history. You may also be asked to chart your child’s behavioral patterns over time before a diagnosis can be made.
At SUN Behavioral Houston, we have high-quality bipolar disorder treatment services. We offer three different levels of care for adolescents, including inpatient treatment, a partial hospitalization program, and an intensive outpatient treatment option. A different level of care may be more appropriate for your child depending on the severity of their mental illness.
At SUN Behavioral, we understand that everyone has different needs. All of our programs are tailored to the individual, but our adolescent program often includes behavioral therapy, stress management training, and family therapy.
If you believe your child needs care for bipolar disorder, get started today. Call 713-796-2273.
How can you tell if your child is bipolar?
There is not a specific test to diagnose bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in children by assessing behavioral, sleeping, and mood patterns. Parents are often asked to document their child's behavior and sleep over a period of time leading up to a bipolar diagnosis.
How early can you detect bipolar disorder in a child?
Bipolar disorder is very rarely diagnosed in children. In fact, bipolar disorder is most commonly diagnosed in young adults in their early 20s. However, bipolar disorder can occur in children of any age.
What are 4 signs of bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder has many potential signs and symptoms. Four common signs of bipolar disorder in children are mixed manic and depressive episodes, less need for sleep, extreme giddiness, and separation anxiety.
At what age does bipolar disorder begin?
Bipolar disorder is rarely diagnosed in children. It is most commonly diagnosed in people in their early 20s, as that is often when identifiable symptoms begin to occur. However, bipolar disorder can occur in a child at any age.