Bipolar Disorder Signs & Symptoms

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, or manic depression as it was previously called, is a serious mood disorder that causes children and adolescents to experience a number of unusual changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. The mood states associated with bipolar disorder alternate between a high, manic state and a low, depressive state. In some instances a young person may experience both mood extremes at one time (known as a mixed state). In children and adolescents with bipolar disorder, moods tend to change rather quickly from one extreme to the other. The presence of bipolar disorder can cause young people to have difficulties carrying out day-to-day tasks such as going to school or being able to make friends their own age. Furthermore, the symptoms associated with this disorder impact a young person’s ability to excel academically and enjoy social activities, and may cause thoughts of suicide.

Bipolar disorder is a long-term condition, but with proper therapeutic interventions young people with this disorder can manage their symptoms and lead successful lives.


Statistics on Bipolar Disorder

The average age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years old, but in can develop in early childhood. It is estimated that between 1% to 5% of children and adolescents in the United States are affected by bipolar disorder.

Causes and Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

The exact cause of bipolar disorder has yet to be identified, but multiple research studies have determined that several factors are involved in its development. Some of the factors that may lead to the development of bipolar disorder in young people may include:

Genetic: Extensive research has shown that genetics may play a significant role in the development of bipolar disorders. In fact, children who have parents with bipolar disorder have a 15% to 30% chance of developing this disorder themselves.

Environmental: It is also believed that certain environmental factors can lead to the onset of bipolar disorder in a child or adolescent. Changes in health habits, the abuse of alcohol or other drugs, and hormonal problems can cause bipolar episodes. Also, certain medications can trigger manic episodes in individuals who are at increased risk for developing bipolar disorder. In some instances, stressful or traumatic events can trigger a manic or depressive episode.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental health disorder
  • Being a woman
  • Periods of high stress
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Imbalance of naturally occurring brain chemicals
  • Certain medications

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder will impact each child and adolescent differently, but the following are some of the most common symptoms:

The following mood and behavioral symptoms indicate that an individual may be experiencing a manic episode (Hypomania symptoms are a less severe form of mania):

  • Extremely irritable
  • Overly silly or elated
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Talking too much or too fast
  • Constantly moving from one thing to the next
  • Easily distracted
  • Inflated self-esteem or belief in unnatural abilities
  • Risky, thrill seeking behaviors
  • Poor judgment
  • Hallucinations or delusions (in some children)

The following signs and symptoms may indicate that an individual is experiencing a depressive episodes:

  • Continuous sad mood
  • Loss of interest in activities that the child enjoyed in the past
  • Significant changes in appetite
  • Changes in weight
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of energy
  • Problems concentrating
  • Headaches, muscle aches, or stomachaches
  • Recurrent thoughts of suicide


Effects of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can bring about many short-term and long-term effects in a young person’s life. . While some of the effects will only cause mild disturbances, others can be severe. Common effects experienced by young people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may include the following:

  • Damaged relationships
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Poor school performance
  • Panic disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Injuries or medical complications as a result of impulsive behavior
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal ideation


Bipolar and Co-Occurring Disorders

It is often the case that children and adolescents with bipolar disorder are also struggling with additional mental health conditions. The most frequent co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders

At every step of the way in the journey of our son, the SUWS staff was wonderful. All of our questions and concerns were answered in a clear and thoughtful manner. Bottom line…SUWS is absolutely amazing! To be honest, I was skeptical that my son could be influenced in such a positive way. While my son has gone off to boarding school, he was an absolute pleasure during Trails end & the transition to his new school. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

– Anonymous Parent