Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder where the individual experiences phases of mania and depression.
Signs of bipolar in children vary from those of adults. This is because of the various stages of development that children are in and how different a child’s experiences are.
There is not just one defining symptom or sign of bipolar in children. Below, we’ll discuss a variety of symptoms/signs, causes, treatment and more.
Signs of Bipolar in Children
As discussed in this previous article: What is Bipolar Depression, there are manic and depression phases that make up bipolar disorder.
Manic and depression symptoms look different in cases with children as opposed to adults.
While children and teens “act out”, if symptoms are unusually intense, it might be more than your typical “growing pains”. Here are some examples of each.
Symptoms of the Manic Phase
While children and teens might be known for being much more reckless than adults, this sign will be clear with a child suffering from bipolar disorder.
They might display long phases of recklessness, poor judgement and rebellion. While some behavior like this is typical, those with bipolar disorder may display these kinds of behavior for much longer and to more extreme lengths than other adolescents.
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While mood swings are inevitable with young children and teens, displaying extreme swings and anxiety may be a sign of the manic phase of depression.
Constant irritability, long term phases of unusual outbursts and displays of extreme anxiety are common signs of bipolar.
Acting “hyper” for a Long Period of Time
This symptom might not be your go-to obvious sign of bipolar as children and teens are typically full of energy.
Silliness/goofiness might not be cause for much concern, but it is still a symptom with the children who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
As a teen, I remember being silly and “hyper” very often with my friends. I do not suffer from bipolar so I think this symptom could be easily overlooked when looking for signs of bipolar in children.
Displays of Fearlessness
We all had that one friend or sibling who was a “dare devil” growing up. Understanding that the manic phase of bipolar in children often looks impulsive, unreasonable and irrational can help you get a better idea of the individual case.
Constantly doing dangerous stunts or activities along with claims of immortality is typically a sign of bipolar in children.
Obviously, no one is immortal and risk of injury or death is evident in any type of dangerous stunt a child might do.
If your child seems to be engaging in easily avoidable dangerous activities (intentionally), they may be expressing the manic phase of bipolar.
High Energy with Little Sleep
Remember when you were a kid and you could stay up until 2a.m. with your friends and run around like the you got 9 hours of sleep the next day with no problem?
It feels like forever ago but I remember those days. While it’s true that children and teens don’t need as much sleep to sustain their energy levels at times, an ongoing display of this is typically considered a sign of bipolar in children.
Lack of Focus
As time goes on, it seems like kids are becoming less and less unfocused.
While this might be partially due to how fast they are used to accessing entertainment and information in the modern world, a persistent display of lack of focus might raise some fed flags.
Continued lack of focus and disinterest in things they love to do are typical signs of bipolar in children.
For example, if your child loves video games and all of a sudden seems to not take an interest (continuously or somewhat regularly), bipolar disorder might be the reason when combined with other symptoms.
Symptoms of the Depression Phase
Sleeping too much
Oversleeping is a common sign of bipolar in children as it is with adults during the depression phase.
Teens are notorious for sleeping in late. But this is usually due to how much their bodies are changing and how late they stay up.
If your child or teen goes to sleep at a reasonable time and still tends to sleep in (and still seems tired) it could be a sign of the depression stage of depression.
Along with oversleeping, exhaustion is a symptom of bipolar in children. During the depression phase, exhaustion and oversleeping will go hand in hand.
Exhaustion is common during this phase of bipolar as the child/individual is under a lot of mental and emotional strain.
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Loss of Friendships
Unfortunately, the loss of friendships can occur as a sign of bipolar in children. This is because the struggling individual will not be managing themselves the best due to everything they’re experiencing mentally and emotionally.
This causes them to communicate poorly, not be social, blow off plans or even fight with their friends. They might be unusually irritable or will act out in aggression at seemingly small things.
This can cause disagreements and fighting among friends which could make it difficult for a child with bipolar to maintain friendships.
Headaches and migraines are a common sign of bipolar as well. This is due to the amount of stress, anxiety and strain the child is dealing with while experiencing bipolar disorder.
They may be a regular occurrence or only happen once in a while. Migraines at a young age are considered relatively rare.
If your child is displaying any of these symptoms and gets migraines, they should be tested for bipolar disorder.
Swings in Appetite
It’s not uncommon for kids and teens to have an insatiable appetite at times. However, a common sign of bipolar in youth are swings in appetite.
If getting your child to eat one day is followed by them overeating constantly, they may be experiencing bipolar.
Since this is a symptom of depression, disinterest in food is common. They might binge to try to make themselves feel better followed by a period of time where they do not eat much.
Binge eating disorder can be developed if this pattern persists and these symptoms get more intense.
Unpleasant emotional experiences such as sadness, feelings of loneliness or lack of interest in anything (feeling lost/confused) are all signs of bipolar in children as well.
In some cases, children and teens may become suicidal or talk about suicide as well. Bipolar disorder is a serious disorder that can have serious impacts on kids and teens.
By educating them on it, it can help validate that they’re not alone with their struggles.
It’s important to understand that children are often dealing with a lot of emotional changes. They might display a number of these symptoms and signs without having bipolar.
Yet, while more rare than the diagnosis among adults, it is still possible for children to have bipolar disorder. This is considered rare due to the immaturity of their mental and emotional capacities but it is still a possibility.
Bipolar I and Bipolar II
While bipolar I and II are two different “types” of bipolar, the differences are not as extreme as you may think.
Bipolar I is a more extreme experience with bipolar. Typically, the manic phase is obvious and much more pronounced than that of bipolar II.
The same goes for the depression phase of bipolar I except the intensity of depression in bipolar I may not always be that much more extreme than that of bipolar II.
Also, people with bipolar I will experience much more of the manic phase than they will of the depression. Those with bipolar II have a much more “even” experience between the manic and depression phases.
For more on the differences and characteristics of bipolar I and II, check out this helpful article over at insider.com.
Causes of Bipolar in Children
Just as with adults, the causes of bipolar disorder in children can vary. While some believe that it is easily passed down from parents who have bipolar, this is surprisingly a rare case.
The causes of bipolar in children are the same as those of adults. Here are a few examples of common causes of bipolar.
The environment we live in, especially as a child, has much to do with how the rest of our lives will go.
If we are able to recognize harmful issues and take better care of ourselves, we can avoid a variety of mental and emotional health problems later in life.
Often, people can develop bipolar from trauma that has gone untreated. Several types of trauma can cause mental and emotional disorders once the child reaches adulthood.
Examples of childhood trauma that can contribute to developing bipolar disorder are physical, sexual, verbal and/or mental abuse.
Abuse often has more of an effect on the victims than they may realize. It essentially changes the way your brain operates depending on the type and severity of it.
Trauma such as the loss of a close loved one, at a young age can contribute to the development of bipolar disorder as well.
Losing a home, surviving dangerous situations such as a fire, car accident or nearly drowning or anything such as this could cause the individual to develop in a way that causes them to develop bipolar disorder.
It all depends on the makeup of the individual’s brain. How well they cope with traumatic events, the support they receive and the narrative they play around the event.
If nothing happened during childhood that could cause the onset of bipolar later in life, it could still develop during adulthood. Again, this could happen in the event of any extreme trauma.
Typically it is seen much more commonly in children as the trauma is suppressed. Bipolar develops slowly over time, however, it is possible for an abrupt event to cause bipolar to develop more rapidly than it is usually seen.
Genetic factors such as personality traits and emotional tendencies have a lot to do with whether someone has bipolar disorder or not.
As with OCD and anxiety, typically a parent has passed those disorders down to their children. Unfortunately, bipolar can be developed if the genetic makeup is there from birth.
If someone is aware of their family history and is proactive about taking care of themselves and treatment, they can certainly reverse the genetic “path” for themselves and their children.
Sometimes genetic factors and traumatic events have nothing to do with the development of bipolar disorder. Dysfunction within the brain can be the cause simply because chemicals are not functioning properly.
Chemical imbalances in the brain cause a variety of mental disorders. Depression being one of the main ones.
This is the case when neurotransmitters that send signals (of what to feel in a given situation) to each other are not releasing the right chemical.
It’s like receiving an incorrect package that you ordered. Someone with a disorder such as bipolar or depression does not receive the “happy” chemicals they’re supposed to since their brain is out of balance.
You’ll feel more productive and centered while keeping your mental health in check. Your brain might try to regulate itself without success. This is where medication such as an antidepressant comes into play.
An antidepressant does not give you artificial “happy” chemicals.
Instead. It blocks the receptors from sending out more “unhappy” chemicals so that the “happy” ones can build back up.
Depending on the specific case, doctors may prescribe a mix of certain medications that best suit your needs.
Some people cannot take antidepressants in which case, other medications or methods of treatment will be used.
Treatment Options and Care for Children with Bipolar
Treating the symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary from case to case depending on the child’s specific needs. Below are a few common treatment options that have proven to have great results.
Speaking to a professional counselor has been proven effective with many cases of bipolar disorder.
With the convenience of online therapy sessions, it’s easier than ever to connect with a personalized counselor and start working toward your goals.
Talk therapy is great for eliminating harmful thought patterns that cause anxiety, depression and some kinds of mood swings.
Understanding yourself better and eliminating harmful thought cycles can lead to amazing changes in your life and treat your bipolar.
In some cases, certain medications might be prescribed. This is typically the case when the use of an antidepressant or other medication is required to treat depression or other severe symptoms of bipolar.
Talk to your doctor to see if this could be an option in your case.
Anxiety Focused Programs
There are many different types of programs that are used as proactive forms of self-care for anxiety.
Children (or adults) experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks as part of either bipolar phase can benefit from engaging programs specifically designed to cure anxiety and eliminate panic attacks.
This specialized program from Panic Away offers just that. Between supportive audio features used on your phone, learning how to overcome anxious thoughts and feelings and instant relief from anxiety and panic attacks and more, this program has everything you need to significantly decrease or eliminate anxiety from your life.
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It’s truly amazing what a healthy lifestyle can do for your body and mind. Exercise and the right nutrition can bring your mind to a healthier place and significantly ease bipolar symptoms.
To this point, an unhealthy lifestyle consisting of poor diet and lack of exercise can make symptoms worse as well.
While adopting a healthy lifestyle might not cure bipolar, when used hand in hand with therapy and any applicable medication, results can be astounding!
Tip: The use of a weighted blanket or other weighted accessory has been known to significantly help ease anxiety when it seems to come out of nowhere.
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