Bipolar disorder in young people

This fact sheet can be on the “Black Dog Institute” website or in our resources section under “Black Dog”.

The information in this fact sheet is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Bipolar disorder in young people

What this fact sheet covers:
• Signs of bipolar disorder in young people
• Treatment and management of bipolar disorder
• How you can help a young person with bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a neglected health problem in children and adolescents. Formerly
known as Manic Depression, bipolar disorder has only recently been recognised in
children and young people.

The highest rate of bipolar disorder is found in those under the age of 30 years.
Bipolar disorder commonly emerges in mid to late adolescence (15‐18 years old).

Signs of bipolar disorder in young people

Bipolar disorder can be difficult to recognise in young people as the illness can be
‘hidden’ by significant behavioural problems, such as irritability and aggression.

Some common signs of bipolar disorder in young people may include:

• Rapidly changing moods lasting a few hours to a few days
• Explosive tantrums or rages
• Impulsivity or racing thoughts
• Excessive involvement in multiple projects or activities
• Family history (bipolar disorder or depression)
• Poor sleep patterns or nightmares
• Excessive cravings‐ usually for carbohydrates or sweets
• Risky or inappropriate behaviours

Management of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is an illness that requires long term treatment. There are serious risks
to delaying diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in young people. Social‐peer
relations, academic performance, family relationships and psychological maturation
are all affected by bipolar disorder (both highs and lows).

There is currently no known cure for bipolar disorder. However, with proper
treatment bipolar disorder can be effectively controlled.

A good management plan for young people with bipolar disorder may include:

• Medication
• Close monitoring of symptoms
• Education about the illness
• Counseling or psychotherapy for the individual and family
• Stress reduction
• Good nutrition
• Regular sleep and exercise
• Participation in a support network
• Mood charting

The sooner that a management plan is put in place the less frequent and intense the
episodes can be.

How you can help a young person with bipolar disorder

Adolescence can be a tumultuous time for young people. Young people with bipolar
disorder may not understand what is happening to them or may think that the highs
and lows of bipolar disorder are simply part of growing up. Young people may need
help recognising that their mood swings may be related to bipolar disorder.

Talk to the young person‐ let them know that you are concerned
• Help the young person identify possible “contributing factors” for why they
may feel unwell; i.e. stress, exams, drugs, situations at home
• Recommend an assessment by a GP
• Based on a visit to a GP, the young person may be referred to a psychiatrist or
psychologist – remind the young person that they can bring a friend or family
member along for support
• If the young person is prescribed a treatment plan or medication, assist them
in closely following the instructions

Here are some resources


New Picture (2)

New Picture (3)

Frequently asked questions about bipolar disorder in children and teens (The Balanced Mind Foundation)

Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens booklet (National Institute of Mental Health)

Parents’ Medication Guide for Bipolar Disorder in Children & Adolescents (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)

Watch a video about bipolar disorder in children with Dr. Ellen Leibenluft, National Institute of Mental Health.

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