Bipolar Disorder in Children
Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness) is an illness of the brain that causes
extreme cycles in a person’s mood, energy level, thinking, and behavior. The disorder was first
described by French scientist Jules Baillarger in 1854 as “dual-form mental illness.” Later in the
19th century, German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin coined the term “manic-depressive psychosis.”
By the 1980s, the term bipolar disorder replaced manic-depressive illness as the name psychiatrists use to describe this condition.
Bipolar disorder is usually characterized by episodes of mania and depression, as well as a
combination of the two at the same time called a mixed state. It is often first diagnosed during
adolescence or in young adulthood; however, some people show symptoms of the illness in early childhood.
Bipolar disorder in children and adolescents is not an easy or certain diagnosis. This diagnosis is usually made by a mental health clinician who has evaluated and treated many, many children. It requires that the clinician take a detailed medical and psychiatric history and perform a thorough evaluation.
Many parents are challenged by a child who has extreme changes in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior. Careful evaluation will find that some of these children are suffering from a mental disorder. Yet, only a very few of those will have bipolar disorder.
While systematic data on the frequency of bipolar disorder among children are only now being collected, recent studies by the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that, overall, children have a lower rate of bipolar disorder than adults. However, the rate increases with age, reaching approximately 1 percent (1 in 100) by adolescence. In adults, the rate of people who have some form of the disorder during their lifetime is approximately 4.4 percent (1 in 20).
Even though this illness affects a significant number of children...