Statistics for children and young people

Bipolar is a growing issue, with young people more likely to screen positive than older people. 16-24 year olds are 8.5 times as likely to screen positive for bipolar as people aged 65-74.1

As yet there are no separate guidelines for diagnosing children with bipolar, so medical professionals rely on adult criteria and their own judgement. Using adult criteria may cause problems as there do appear to be differences in the way bipolar appears in children compared to adults. The main differences are that children are more likely to have continuous, mixed state mood cycles, with severe irritability. Also, they may not have clear episodes with periods of wellness that are usually seen in adults.

 The Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF) states that in children symptoms may include:

  • An expansive or irritable mood
  • Depression
  • Rapidly changing moods lasting a few hours to a few days
  • Explosive, lengthy, and often destructive rages
  • Separation anxiety
  • Defiance of authority
  • Hyperactivity, agitation, and distractibility
  • Sleeping little, or too much
  • Bed wetting and night terrors
  • Strong and frequent cravings, often for carbohydrates and sweets
  • Excessive involvement in multiple projects and activities
  • Impaired judgement, impulsivity, racing thoughts, and pressure to keep talking
  • Dare-devil behaviours
  • Inappropriate or precocious sexual behaviour
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Grandiose belief in own abilities that defy the laws of logic (ability to fly, for example)

Symptoms in children

CABF also states that the ‘…symptoms of bipolar diagnosis can emerge as early as infancy. Mothers often report that children later diagnosed with the disorder were extremely difficult to settle and slept erratically… and often had uncontrollable, seizure-like tantrums or rages out of proportion to any event.’ It can be difficult to judge the extent to which behaviour might be due to developmental issues and part of growing up, and what may be due to a disorder such as bipolar. This can also be dependent on the appropriate context: for example, when a child’s grandiose ideas, which are fine when playing with other children, constantly spill over into interactions with adults. As a friend of family member, you may be well aware that these mood swings are outside the boundary of what would be considered ‘ordinary’. 

If you are concerned that your child is experiencing extreme mood swings, it might be useful to keep a diary of day-to-day events to show how moods are fluctuating over time, and what impact they are having on your child’s behaviour (try using our mood scale and mood diary). This can then be discussed with your medical professional, along with any family history of mental health problems or alcohol/substance misuse.

It can also be useful to check that your doctor is aware that children and young people can experience bipolar disorder as this is not always widely known; even amongst medical professionals as it is still thought of as only affecting adults.

Further information about bipolar in young people

This information in this Bipolar UK leaflet is aimed at the relatives, friends and support professionals of younger people and children with bipolar. It focuses on the very specific needs of children and young people with bipolar disorder, which can be quite different to those experienced by older people. 

Bipolar UK offer support for parents via our groups, we advise 16 years old + to work with us on groups or our eCommunity with parental consent, so accessing support as parents is important too: find out about our peer support services

The UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health: Young Minds

The UK’s leading support service for young people, offering free information and support for under 25s: The Mix



1Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014