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Bipolar disorder can start at any time but at least half of the cases present around age 25. It is rare to see bipolar disorder first diagnosed after age 35. However, there is usually a 10-year delay between the first time a person experiences symptoms and when they seek a diagnosis and treatment.
Bipolar disorder most often occurs in the late teens to early 20's (the average age of onset is 21 years). However, I have worked with clients who didn't realize they had the disorder into well into their lives when they encountered a huge stressor (in one case, for example, a 60 year-old man who was diagnosed and treated for cancer, and subsequently experienced his first full-blown manic episode; and in another case, a 30-something year-old coronor from New Orleans after Katrina who also experienced his first mania). While the diagnosis wasn't made until later in these individuals' lives, however, they likely had symptoms that just weren't debilitating enough for them to seek treatment sooner.
It's also important to keep in mind that bipolar can have an earlier onset. There is still a lot of controversy about pediatric bipolar disorder; my experience working with adults with the illness and hearing their recollections of symptoms they experienced as children and adolescents, however, leads me to believe it probably happens more often than we think, and goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
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.