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How is bipolar disorder different in children than in adults?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

When children develop the illness, it is called early-onset bipolar disorder. This type can be more severe than bipolar disorder in older teens and adults. Also, young people with bipolar disorder may have symptoms more often and switch moods more frequently than adults with the illness.

This answer is based on source information from National Institute of Mental Health.

Research has shown that Childhood-Onset Bipolar Spectrum Disorder is different, and more severe, than that diagnosed in older adolescents and adults.
When the illness begins before, or soon after puberty, children and adolescents with the disorder often experience very fast mood swings between depression and mania, sometimes many times within a day, or over a period of several days. This is known as a mixed state.
They can feel agitated, restless, and have high energy, but also may feel worthless and self-destructive. While mixed states are not as common in adults (unless induced by antidepressant treatment), they are a true hallmark of Childhood-Onset Bipolar Spectrum Disorder.
Given this constant mixed state of emotions, the moods of children with the disorder are often irritable, and prone to destructive outbursts. At times they almost cannot stand to be in their own bodies. They are often inflexible and oppositional, and may have periods of explosive rage, with long-lasting tantrums.
Many parents and families may struggle for years before getting a proper diagnosis for their child or adolescent. For many parents and families, how do they know if their child or adolescent is simply moody, or whether it is something more?
Children and adolescents diagnosed with the disorder often exhibit frequent daily mood swings (for months or even years), mixed moods (short periods of intense mood changes and irritability), and chronic mood states (without periods of remission).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.