700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

How to Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Aug 27, 2019
Child sitting with her head down

Any parent knows that a child’s mood or behavior can change in an instant. This can happen for a variety of reasons. If you notice that your child has more highs and lows than other children, however, or gets more excited than other kids their age, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician or family doctor. Some children with these symptoms could have bipolar disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness marked by episodes of mania and depression. It causes extreme mood swings which are accompanied by changes in the child’s energy level, sleep, thinking and behavior. These mood episodes are very different from the child’s typical moods and behaviors. Episodes can last hours, days, weeks or even months.

Bipolar disorder usually shows up in adolescence or early adulthood, but it can start in childhood. Those with a family history of bipolar disorder are more likely to have the condition. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it is estimated that up to one-third of the 3.4 million children and teens with depression in the United States actually may be experiencing the early onset of bipolar disorder.   

Signs and Symptoms

Bipolar symptoms can make it hard for your child to do well in school, or get along with family and friends. Children with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk to have other illnesses, such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  

Children with bipolar disorder go through periods where they are extremely high or elated (manic episodes), extremely low or depressed (depressive episodes) or both.

Signs of a Manic Episode

  • Increased energy or activity levels
  • Needing less sleep, such as going for days with very little sleep and not getting tired
  • Acting jumpy or wired
  • Talking really fast about a lot of different things
  • Doing risky things
  • Inappropriate or uninhibited social behavior
  • Increased and excessive confidence

Signs of a Depressive Episode

  • Frequent sadness or crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Decreased energy level or feeling “slowed down”
  • Lack of enthusiasm or motivation
  • Major changes in habits, such as oversleeping or overeating
  • Frequent physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Decrease in self-esteem
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose and sometimes takes ongoing assessment over time to clarify the diagnosis. While the disorder can be chronic, there are treatment options, including medication and therapy.

For more information about Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children's Hospital, click here.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
David Axelson, MD
Behavioral Health

David Axelson, MD is recognized nationally and internationally for his work in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry, pediatric bipolar disorder, diagnostic biomarkers for pediatric mood disorders, and pediatric psychopharmacology.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.