Bipolar Disorder Symptoms & Effects

Learn how to recognize the signs, symptoms, and effects of bipolar disorder. Resource Treatment Center provides comprehensive mental health and psychiatric treatment for youth who are suffering from bipolar disorder.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that impacts millions of individuals throughout the world. While most commonly believed to occur in adults, countless children and adolescents are plagued by this mental disorder as well. When children are suffering from bipolar disorder, their symptoms will present much differently than they do in adults. However, just as it does in adults, the presence of bipolar symptoms can wreak havoc on the lives of those children suffering from it. And not only does it affect the lives of those children, but it greatly impacts the lives of those around them as well. While adults who have bipolar disorder typically display a somewhat cyclical pattern of mood swings, ranging from extreme highs to extreme lows, children and adolescents tend to not have such recognizable patterns. This fact can make it difficult for a proper diagnosis to be received. As a result, it is imperative that all symptoms be monitored, documented, and then reported to the mental health professional who is providing the child’s treatment. With proper therapeutic interventions and the implementation of appropriate psychotropic medications, children and adolescents who are suffering from early-onset bipolar disorder can gain control of their symptoms and move forwards towards living full and happy lives.


Bipolar disorder statistics

The National Institute of Mental Health provides estimates that the lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents in between 0-3%. However, because the boundaries of diagnosing children with bipolar disorder is still highly debated amongst professionals in the field, the true statistical prevalence is not well-established.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

As is true for all mental disorders, there is not any one specific cause that has been identified as being the sole reason why an individual develops bipolar disorder. Instead, it is believed to be a combination of different factors working together that lead to its onset. Consider the following:

Genetic: When children and adolescents have a blood relative who has bipolar disorder, they have a much greater chance of developing the disorder as well. More specifically, when children have one parent who has bipolar disorder, they have a 15-25% chance of developing the same condition. Additionally, professionals in the field have stated that those children who have parents with bipolar disorder and who then develop it themselves will typically display their first episodes approximately ten years earlier than their parents did.

Physical: When neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals responsible for sending messages throughout one’s brain, become imbalanced, it is believed to have a direct impact on the possibility that a person will develop bipolar disorder.

Environmental: Although somewhat controversial, there are some professionals and researchers in the field who believe that certain environmental factors can play a role in the development of bipolar disorder, even if there are no genetic influences present. It is more commonly believed, however, that in order for environmental factors to come into play, an individual must also have a genetic susceptibility to the illness.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a biological parent who suffers from bipolar disorder
  • Having a personal or family history of other forms of mental illness
  • Experiencing significant trauma
  • Engaging in substance abuse
  • Experiencing major life changes and stressors

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

As was previously mentioned, the signs and symptoms that are displayed by children and adolescents who have bipolar disorder tend to be different than those displayed by adults who have bipolar disorder, although some may be similar. It should also be noted that the symptoms will vary based on whether the child is experiencing a manic episode or a depressive episode. The following are some examples of different symptoms that may be exhibited by a child or adolescent who has bipolar disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Explosive, unprovoked temper tantrums or outbursts that are grossly out of proportion to the present circumstances
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Manipulative behaviors
  • Extremely oppositional behaviors
  • Overly defiant behaviors
  • Hypersexuality
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Rapid speech
  • Hoarding
  • Restlessness / excessive fidgeting
  • Self-injuring

Physical symptoms:

  • Extreme fluctuations in body temperature
  • Bedwetting
  • Motor tics
  • Vocal tics
  • Needing excessive amounts of sleep or not needing any sleep at all
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Exaggerated states of arousal

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor working memory
  • Racing thoughts
  • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Experiencing delusions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of grandiosity
  • Feelings of low self-esteem or low self-worth
  • Prolonged periods of emotional excitability


Effects of bipolar disorder

Due to the fact that bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, it will continue to affect those suffering from it throughout their lifetime. While there is currently no cure for bipolar disorder, it can be successfully managed through the implementation of thorough treatment. However, when children and adolescents are suffering from bipolar disorder and do not receive treatment, their symptoms are likely to continue worsening and carry over into adulthood. Examples of various long-term effects that can result from untreated bipolar disorder may include:

  • Academic failure
  • Future difficulty successfully establishing or maintaining a career
  • Social isolation
  • Inability to develop and maintain healthy, lasting relationships
  • Self-injury
  • Criminal involvement
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

It is possible for children and adolescents who are suffering from bipolar disorder to exhibit symptoms of another mental illness as well. Despite this fact, determining whether or not it is appropriate for a child or adolescent to be given an additional diagnosis on top of bipolar disorders continues to be debated amongst professionals in the field as symptoms of other mental disorders can oftentimes mirror symptoms of various other disorders.

That being said, some examples of possible co-existing disorders can include the following:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder

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