Although bipolar disorder more commonly develops in older teenagers and young adults, it can appear in children as young as 6. In recent years, it's become a controversial diagnosis. Some experts believe it is rare and being overdiagnosed; others think the opposite. At this point, it's hard to be sure just how common it is.
Another diagnosis, called Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD) also has been established to describe children ages 6-18 who have severe and persistent irritability and temper outbursts that don't meet conventional definitions of bipolar disorder.
So it's important not to jump to conclusions. If your child is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you might want to get a second opinion before embarking on a treatment plan. Make sure you're comfortable with your child's health care provider.
Diagnosing bipolar disorder in young children is difficult, because many of the symptoms are similar to those of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or conduct disorders -- or even just normal, childhood behavior. One problem is that the medications used for ADHD are stimulants, which can potentially trigger mania in children with bipolar disorder.
Young children in a manic phase might be more irritable than adults; they may be more likely to have psychotic symptoms, hearing and seeing things that aren't real. During a depressive episode, they might be more likely to complain of physical symptoms, like aches and pains.
One of the most notable differences is that bipolar disorder in children cycles much more quickly. While manic and depressive periods may be separated by weeks, months, or years in adults, they can happen within a single day in children.