Can Children Have Bipolar Disorder?

While it may seem that only older teens and adults develop bipolar disorder, it can begin to appear at any age. In addition, it may cause more severe symptoms if it develops in someone who is younger. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder in children because they can be different or more difficult to identify. 

Knowing the symptoms can help you know when to seek help. If you believe that your child or teen has symptoms of bipolar disorder, then it may be best to seek the help of a mental health professional. 

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens

Bipolar disorder can disrupt a child’s development and well-being. It may make it hard for your child to form relationships with other children or may cause them to have trouble in school. They may also feel overwhelmed by daily life and have excessive worry. 

There are many different symptoms that range from mild to severe. Sometimes it is difficult to assess whether it is normal behavior or if something is actually wrong. Some children with bipolar disorder show excessive separation anxiety or even have prolonged tantrums that may last an hour or more. 

Bipolar disorder can also make a child more prone to rages. They may be more irritable than other children their age and may not respond well to directions. They may also become distracted easily or be hyperactive. They may even become so hyperactive that they try to do too many things at one time or develop insomnia or reduced sleep. 

Children with bipolar disorder may have mood swings as well. If you feel like your child goes from happy to angry then to sad rapidly, they may be showing signs of bipolar disorder, but it is also important to remember that children can act this way without any mental health issues. It is more of an issue when the mood swings become frequent or lasting. 

Depressed feelings may also present themselves in a child who is suffering with bipolar disorder. They may become lethargic or have low self-esteem compared to their peers. They may also have a hard time getting up in the morning or become aggressive or agitated easily. In some cases, they may have thoughts of suicide or self-harm. 

While bipolar disorder is usually defined by period of mania and depressive behavior, it may not appear that way in a child. While the child may in fact have periods of hyperactivity follow by periods of depression, they may also only show extreme periods of one or the other. Also, since all children tend to be giddier and more excitable than adults, it may be hard to identify periods of mania. 

Risk Factors

While bipolar disorder can develop in anyone, there are some risk factors that you may want to keep in mind. The first risk factor is family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illness. The heightened risk for someone who has a parent with mental illness can be substantial, but it is not the only factor

Another risk factor is trauma or abuse. Sexual and physical abuse as well as grief, neglect, or other high stress events can increase a child’s risk of developing bipolar disorder sometime during their lifetime. 

The age for development may be important to consider as well. While children can develop bipolar disorder and related symptoms, it is more common for older teens or young adults to begin to show signs. 

Another risk factor is drug or alcohol abuse. Substance abuse can trigger an episode or make the onset of symptoms more rapid. Lack of sleep can also contribute to the onset of symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. 

Finally, there is research that suggests that over half of children and teens with bipolar disorder also struggle with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Furthermore, other mental health conditions like anxiety can also develop in children who have bipolar disorder. 

Supporting a Child or Teen with Bipolar Disorder

If your child is showing symptoms of bipolar disorder, then you probably want to support them going forward. One thing you can do is to develop a plan with their teachers. Bipolar disorder can make it hard for a child or teen to perform adequately in school. They may show behavior and academic problems. Try to talk to the school to develop a way forward that can assist with your child’s education. 

A lot of schools offer services to help students who are struggling with these types of issues. They may have modified schedule, extra work time, or regular meetings with a counselor. This can help a student reduce their stress about school as well. 

You also need to work towards a healthy solution. This may involve therapy, medication, and coping methods. You should try to talk to your child about their symptoms and what helps and harms their progress. Make sure that you child knows that you are there for them when they need you. Check out this article on BetterHelp to learn more about how these classes can benefit both you and your child.

Additionally, you can show healthy coping methods and self-care routines. Modeling appropriate and healthy behaviors can do a lot for a child. You can even ask guidance from parent support groups or ask your partner for help with your own stress levels. 


Bipolar disorder is most likely to develop during the teen years or the early twenties, but it can develop earlier as well. It is important to understand the symptoms so that you can identify them in your child or discover that they are merely acting like a child should. Then you can seek the help of a therapist or doctor and support your child with their progression and coping methods. 

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