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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is treatable. It is thought to be genetic and inherited as the illness runs in families. It can also be caused by abnormal brain structure and brain function.

Does your child go through intense mood changes? Does your child have extreme behaviour changes like getting really silly or excites sometimes and at other times are they really sad. Bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) is a serious but treatable medical illness. It is thought to be a chemical imbalance in the brain marked by extreme changes in mood, energy, thinking and behaviour. Symptoms may be present since infancy or early childhood, or may suddenly emerge in adolescence or adulthood. When diagnosed in a child it is labelled as early-onset Bipolar Disorder. Until recently, a diagnosis of the disorder was rarely made in childhood. Doctors can now recognize and treat bipolar disorder in young children.

Evidence shows that more children with anxiety can develop bipolar disorder. Early intervention and treatment offer the best chance for children with emerging bipolar disorder to achieve stability, gain the best possible level of wellness, and grow up to enjoy their gifts and  build upon their strengths.  Proper treatment can minimize the adverse effects of the illness on their lives and the lives of those who love them.

Everyone has ups and downs in mood. Feeling happy, sad and angry is normal. Bipolar Disorder, or manic-depressive illness, is a serious medical condition that causes people to have extreme mood swings that affect their entire outlook in all areas of life.  These swings affect how people think, behave and function. In children, however, the two emotional states (highs and lows) may not alternate. Instead there may be long periods of depression. In children and teens, the primary symptom is often irritability and feeling very important and able to do anything.

Bipolar disorder in children and teens can co-exist with other problems.  These would include substance abuse; ADHD; anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses, like depression.

How to Recognize Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms of a Depressive Episode   Symptoms of a Manic Episode
  • preoccupation with failure
  • loss of self esteem
  • feelings of uselessness and hopelessness
  • excessive guilt
  • crying easily
  • slowed thinking
  • loss of interest in activities
  • sleep problems
  • loss of appetite
  • suicidal thoughts
  • loss of energy and motivation
  • decreased sexual drive
Enjoyable Symptoms
  • feelings of happiness and excitement
  • inflated self-esteem
  • heightening of the senses
  • excessive energy
  • increased sexual drive
Negative Symptoms
  • irritability and impatience
  • speaking loudly and quickly
  • rapid, unpredictable emotional changes
  • racing thoughts
  • overreaction to stimuli
  • poor judgement
  • overspending
  • decreased sleep
  • alienating friends and family members
  • hallucinations or delusions
  • sexually inappropriate behaviour

 How is Bipolar Disorder Treated:

  • Medication – different types can help. Children respond to medications in different ways and several different types might be tried. Remember to start slow and go slow and watch for side effects.
  • Therapy – different kinds of psychotherapy can be useful. Therapy can help children change behaviours and manage routines.
  • Bipolar disorder takes a team approach – doctors, teachers, parents and the child must work together.

Links or Useful Resources for BIPOLAR Disorder:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - 
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Child and Parent Resource Institute –  - or call 1-519-858-2774
Children’s Mental Health Ontario - 
Canadian Mental Health Association -
Juvenile Bipolar Research Foundation -
The Balanced Mind Foundation -
Mood Disorder Association of Ontario (MDAO)- or 1-888-486-8236 Local 519-570-4595