Bipolar Disorder and Children

What was once thought to be exclusively an adult mood disorder, and seen earliest in the late teen years, bipolar disorder among children has become much more common since the mid-1990s. A review of national diagnostic trends in the United States found that the number of children, including very young children and adolescents who were diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder, increased 40-fold from 1994 to 2003. (Moreno et al, 2007)

The number of private office visits for children with bipolar disorder increased from 20,000 in 1994 to 800,000 in 2003, and most clinical observers agree that the number of children and adolescents diagnosed with bipolar disorder has continued to rise sharply since 2003. (Mash & Wolfe, 2010)

Catchall Diagnosis

Many clinical theorists believe that a bipolar disorder diagnosis is currently being overapplied to children and adolescents. (Mash & Wolfe, 2000) They suggest the label has become a clinical “catchall” that is being applied to almost every aggressive child. Most children who receive a bipolar diagnosis display symptoms of rage and aggression, along with depression. (Diler et al, 2010; Miklowitz & Cichetti, 2010)

The DSM-5 Task Force has agreed that the bipolar disorder label has in fact been overapplied. To help rectify this disparity, DSM-5 now includes a new category: Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, which is targeted at children with severe patterns of rage.


Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder includes severe and recurrent outbursts that are greatly out of proportion to the situation, and occur three or more times per week over the course of at least one year. Persistent angry or irritable mood is displayed between outbursts. These symptoms are present in two or more settings (home, school), and the individual is between six and eighteen years of age.

Few of the medications prescribed for treating bipolar or disruptive mood dysregulation disorders have been tested on children and approved specifically for them.

This report is not a diagnosis. We hope this information can guide you toward improving your life.

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