Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes severe or unusual shifts in mood, energy level, thinking, and behavior. For example, people with bipolar disorder often experience episodes of overly high “highs”, extreme irritability, and 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:
- Glossary of Symptoms and Illnesses - Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)
- Facts for Families: Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens
- Excerpts on Bipolar Disorder from AACAP's book Your Child
- Experpts on Bipolar Disorder from AACAP's book Your Adolescent
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?
AACAP's Facts for Families provide concise up-to-date information on issues that affect children, teenagers, and their families.
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.
Early Onset Bipolar Disorder: What Those in the Know, Know
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.
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).
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.
Assessment Tools for Parents
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. Click here for the 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. Click here to 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.
Additional Clinical Resources
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 disorder. Click here to learn more about the Parents’ Medication Guides.
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.
2008 AACAP Annual Meeting Sessions
Click here to search the Annual Meeting Sessions.
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.
Click here for information on ordering the Scientific Proceeds from previous AACAP Annual Meetings.
Click here for excerpts from Your Adolescent on bipolar disorder
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.
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 Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.