Bipolar Disorder in Children

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Bipolar disorder is a condition in which your child may experience extreme mood swings and extreme changes in energy levels. Two different mood “episodes” characterize this disorder:

  • Manic, when the child may seem very energetic and happy
  • Depressive, when the child may seem much less active than usual and sad

About Bipolar Mood Swings

Mood swings experienced by a child with bipolar disorder:

  • Feel more powerful than normal moods
  • May make it difficult for your child to deal with school or interact with friends and family
  • May cause changes in sleeping habits
  • Can last for long periods of time
  • Differ from your child’s usual behavior
  • Cloud your child’s thinking

During a manic episode, your child may:

  • Feel happiness or act silly in a way that’s unusual for them
  • Have a short temper
  • Talk very fast
  • Often switch topics while talking
  • Have trouble sleeping but don't feel tired
  • Have trouble staying focused
  • Do risky things
  • Think or talk about sex more often

During a depressive episode, your child may:

  • Feel very sad
  • Complain about pain a lot (such as stomachaches and headaches)
  • Have changes in sleeping habits (too much or too little)
  • Feel guilt and worthlessness
  • Have changes in eating habits (too much or too little)
  • Have little energy
  • Lack interest in fun activities
  • Think about death or suicide

Bipolar Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA Health Children's

We usually diagnose bipolar disorder in older children and teens. It can be hard to diagnose, as its symptoms can appear similar to those of depression and other conditions.

Treatment for bipolar disorder varies depending on the severity of your child’s symptoms. Treatment may include:

  • Medications to stabilize moods
  • Individual and/or family therapy