Bipolar disorder is usually first exhibited in people in their late teens and early 20s. Childhood bipolar disorder has only recently been recognized as a possibility. Even in adults who follow the standard form of presentation and show the textbook symptoms, the disorder is frequently misdiagnosed or overlooked entirely.

Even though a child has as much as a 75 percent chance of developing childhood bipolar disorder if both parents have the disorder, the children who are in that category are still overlooked or misdiagnosed for years.

ADHD, Poor Parenting, Hyperactivity

One difficulty in diagnosing childhood bipolar disorder, of course, is that odd or troublesome behavior in children is often seen as something else. Manic behavior looks a lot like hyperactivity, crankiness, poor self-control or, in pre-teens, possible drug use. A young child may not even realize that his behavior is the result of a physical problem.

In addition, the behaviors are different in children than they are in adults. Mania in childhood bipolar disorder is more likely to appear as irritability and destructive outbursts than it does in adults. Children are less likely to appear happy or euphoric. The depression of childhood bipolar disorder is likely to show up as headaches, stomachaches, tiredness, sensitivity to rejection and failure, poor school performance, and poor socialization.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry believes that as many as one-third of the 3.4 million children and young adults who show signs of depression are actually exhibiting signs of childhood bipolar disorder.

Not Just Childhood Bipolar Disorder

To make it more difficult to diagnose childhood bipolar disorder, most children with the disorder have others. More than 90 percent also have oppositional defiant disorder, more than 90 percent also have attention deficit disorder, more than 90 percent also have conduct disorder, and nearly half also have separation anxiety. Finally, 15 to 20 percent also have obsessive-compulsive disorder.


The diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder is officially about a decade old. Its not surprising that treatment protocols are lagging behind. Accepted treatment is based on the treatment of adults. Very few studies have been done to test the medications, their effectiveness and safety in children.

If a child does manage to be properly diagnosed with childhood bipolar disorder, it is very important to locate a doctor with experience in treating it. Obviously, there is much more work to do in the field of childhood bipolar disorder, its diagnosis and treatment and its related disorders.

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