Last updated December 2015
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes severe or unusual shifts in mood, energy level, thinking, and behavior. People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of mania where their mood is overly happy or extremely extreme irritable and they also have increases in their energy. They can also have episodes of depression. While everyone has good and bad moods, the unprovoked and intense highs and lows of people with bipolar disorder can be unpredictable, extreme, and debilitating. Bipolar disorder occurs in all age groups, young and old. Until recently, bipolar disorder in children and adolescents was thought to be an extremely rare condition, but it may, in fact, be more common than previously thought.
Many parents are challenged by a child who has extreme changes in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior. Careful evaluation will find that some of these children are suffering from a mental disorder. Yet, only a very few of those will have bipolar disorder.
For additional information see:
Choose a topic:
- What causes bipolar disorder?
- What are the symptoms of pediatric bipolar disorder?
- What are the consequences of bipolar disorder
- What types of treatment are available?
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AACAP's Facts for Families provide concise up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families.
Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens
Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder
Psychotherapies for Children and Adolescents
Preventing and Managing Medication-Related Weight
Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents Part I - How Medications are Used
Psychiatric Medication for Children and Adolescents: Part II - Types of Medications
However, not all children who have excessive moodiness, irritability, or overexcitement have bipolar disorder. For those with bipolar disorder, the mood cycles are prolonged, severe, and interfere with daily functioning.
Services in School for Children with Special Needs: What Parents Need to Know
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Boris Birmaher, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry
Co-Director, University of Pittsburgh
Medical Center Bipolar Institute
Chair, Early Onset Bipolar Disorder
University of Pittsburgh and
Glenn Kashurba, M.D.
Early Onset Bipolar Disorder: What Those in the Know, Know
This roundtable discussion presents child and adolescent psychiatrists on the differing views of definition, assessment and treatment approaches to Bipolar Disorder. An expert panel explores whether differences matter, and if so, where and how.
Date of Original Release: April 1, 2008
Date of Most Recent Review/Update: March 24, 2011
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AACAP Practice Parameters
AACAP’s Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder aids mental health professionals and physicians in their clinical decision making. The Practice Parameters show the best treatment options available to families living with childhood and adolescent mental illness.
Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder
Information about Choices in Psychotherapy Treatment
Treatment for bipolar disorder comes in the form of medication and psychotherapy treatment. Both are important elements of a comprehensive treatment plan. For children and adolescents with bipolar disorder, getting enough sleep and developing skills to monitor moods is an essential part of effective treatment. There are several psychotherapies that are being studied for children and adolescents with bipolar disorder, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
To learn more about the types of psychotherapy that are available to help children and adolescents with mental illness, click here.
Information about Choices in Medication
Parents who have a child or adolescent with bipolar disorder, or any mental health condition, are often left facing difficult decisions regarding medication.
Learn more about how psychiatric medication is used to treat children and adolescents
Learn more about the types of psychiatric medication that are available to treat children and adolescents with mental health disorder
View up-to-date information about advances in psychopharmacological treatment for mood disorders
AACAP has produced medication guides to help patients, families, and
physicians make informed decisions about obtaining and administering
appropriate care for a child with ADHD, depression, or bipolar
Rating Scales to Assist in Diagnosis
The Child Mania Rating Scale–Parent Version (CMRS-P) is an assessment tool that helps clinicians differentiate bipolar disorder from other childhood behavioral disorders, such as ADHD. This rating scale collects information from parents and can be completed in approximately 15 minutes. Child Mania Rating Scale Parent Version.
The Parent Version of the Young Mania Rating Scale (P-YMRS) is an adult assessment tool that has been adapted for pediatricians as well as parents to help them determine if a child should be seen by a mental health professional. View the rating scale.
Tips for Monitoring Weight Gain
Many of the mood-stabilizing medications used to treat bipolar disorder are associated with problems with weight gain. Also, weight gain can trigger metabolic problems, such difficulties controlling blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. These changes can increase the risk of a child or adolescent developing diabetes and heart problems.
Information about monitoring and controlling weight gain.
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AACAP's Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder aids mental health professionals and physicians in their clinical decision making. The Practice Parameters show the best treatment options available to families living with childhood and adolescent mental illness.
Practice Parameters for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder
Scientific Proceedings of the AACAP Annual Meeting
This annual publication contains abstracts of all sessions and presentations from AACAP’s Annual Meeting. It is designed as a resource tool and a historical record of the science presented each year.
Information on ordering the Scientific Proceedings from previous AACAP Annual Meetings.
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Differentiating Bipolar Disorder–Not Otherwise Specified and Severe Mood Dysregulation
Kenneth Towbin, David Axelson, Ellen Leibenluft, Boris Birmaher
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 52, Issue 5, p466–481
Child- and Family-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Pediatric Bipolar Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial
Amy E. West, Sally M. Weinstein, Amy T. Peters, Andrea C. Katz, David B. Henry, Rick A. Cruz, Mani N. Pavuluri
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 53, Issue 11, p1168–1178.e1
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AACAP's publications, Your Child and Your Adolescent, offer accessible, comprehensive information about the emotional development and behavior of children from infancy through the teenage years.
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
Kay Redfield Jamison
Sugar and Salt
For more bibliotherapy resources, visit Living with Mental Illness: Books, Stories and Memoirs.
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Getting help is the most important thing that parents can do for children and adolescents with a mental health concern. Parents should try to find a mental health professional with advanced training and experience evaluating and treating children and adolescents with bipolar disorder. Also, it is important to find a comfortable match between your child, your family, and the mental health professional.
A child and adolescent psychiatrist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders that affect children and adolescents. Child and adolescent psychiatrists have completed four years of medical school, and at least three years of residency training in medicine, neurology, or general psychiatry with adults, and two years of additional training in psychiatric work with children and adolescents.
Find a child and adolescent psychiatrist in your area.
To learn about accessing child and adolescent psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, please read Where to Find Help for Your Child.
Oftentimes, parents are unsure when to seek a referral to a child and adolescent psychiatrist. For more information on when to seek a referral, click here.
There are many organizations that provide support groups for families that have a family member or child with bipolar disorder. Two such organizations are the The Balanced Mind Foundation and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
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