Once thought to be a condition that struck only adults, mental health professionals now diagnose approximately 1-percent of children with bipolar disease. The cibdition, sometimes called manic depression, affects a child's moods, resulting in alternate episodes of extreme happiness (mania phase) followed by periods of deep depression. The severity of bipolar disease is related to the rate at which the mood cycles occur and the extent of the child's depression episodes.


According to the September 2007 issue of "Archives of General Psychiatry," the diagnosis of children with bipolar disease has increased dramatically since 1994. Some of this may be due to the misdiagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), prior to 1994. Children between the ages of 10 and 18, account for the greatest increase in diagnosis.


Since bipolar disease mimics ADHD in children, diagnosis is often difficult. Parents and educators may notice unexplained giggling, talking out of turn, interrupting or trying to teach the parents or teachers during the elated phase of bipolar disease. More importantly, however, are the symptoms noticed during the depressive phase. A gloomy disposition, sadness, crying or expressing feelings of insecurity and suicide may be present.

Side Effects

Bipolar disease, if untreated, leads to decreased sleep cycles where the child or teen sleeps less than 6 hours at night and is not tired during the day. During the teen years, the child may develop a grandiose attitude towards others and refuse to listen to adult advice. This leads to an increased risk of antisocial behavior and a greater tendency to break the law. Bipolar children may also exhibit signs of hypersexuality, making inappropriate sexual advances towards others and using vulgar sexual terms.


Unfortunately, the treatment of bipolar disease in children is limited because some of the antipsychotic drugs used to successfully treat the condition in adults, put a child's health at risk. Atypical neuroleptic medications may cause excessive weight gain in children and an increased risk of developing Type II diabetes. Lithium may control suicidal tendencies but it may lead to thyroid complications. The use of valproate may leave female patients infertile in later life as it increases the risk of polycystic ovarian syndrome.


Children diagnosed with bipolar disease may suffer from more frequent and more severe mood cycles than those seen in adults with the disorder. Early psychiatric intervention offers the child the best chance at living a normal life. By combining closely monitored medication treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy, the child will learn to recognize approaching mood swings and avert dangerous behaviors.


Parents of children with bipolar disease can interact with other parents in local support groups or by joining the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation for further information.