Bipolar disorder is a serious medical condition that causes dramatic mood swings from overly “high” and/or irritable (mania) to sad and hopeless (depression), and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. These moods are called episodes and can change at different rates. Moods may drastically change multiple times a day or they may change over days or months. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. At times, someone may experience both mania and depression – which is called a mixed episode.
Often the first signs of bipolar disorder are severe moodiness, unhappiness or symptoms of depression. The first manic episode may be triggered by stress or trauma, but sometimes there is no clear reason. Although it can be diagnosed in childhood, bipolar disorder tends to emerge in adolescence. Children with bipolar disorder can have co-occurring disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders, or other mental disorders.
Symptoms of mania include:
- Acting overly joyful or silly
- Having a short fuse or temper
- Thinking or talking a mile a minute
- Sleeping very little without feeling tired
- Talking and thinking about sex more than usual
- Engaging in risky or thrill-seeking behavior, or over-involvement in activities
- Hallucinations or delusions, which can result from severe episodes of mania
Symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling extremely sad or hopeless
- Being in an irritable mood
- No longer interested in activities that were once enjoyed
- Sleeping too much or trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Little or no energy or moving slowly
- Problems concentrating
- Aches and pains for no reason.
- Recurrent thoughts or talk of death or suicide – any thoughts or talk about suicide must be taken seriously.
People often have early warning signs that show bipolar disorder may be developing.
Children may experience severe temper tantrums when told “no.” Tantrums can last for hours while the child continues to become more violent. They may also show odd displays of happy or silly moods and behaviors.
Teenagers may experience a drop in grades or suspension from school, quit a sports team or other activity, be arrested for fighting or drug use, engage in risky sexual behavior possibly resulting in pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease, or talk about death or suicide.