Warning Signs and Resources for Bipolar Disorder 

Warning Signs

Bipolar illness looks different in children than it does in adults, warns CABF, the Childhood and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation. Children usually have an ongoing, continuous mood disturbance that is a mix of mania and depression. This rapid and severe cycling between moods produces chronic irritability and few clear periods of wellness between episodes.

Symptoms of early-onset bipolar disorder may include:

an expansive or irritable mood


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, alternatively, sleeping too much

bed wetting and night terrors

strong and frequent cravings, often for carbohydrates and sweets

excessive involvement in multiple projects and activities

impaired judgment, impulsivity, racing thoughts, and pressure to keep


dare-devil behaviors

inappropriate or precocious sexual behavior

delusions and hallucinations

grandiose belief in own abilities that defy the laws of logic (ability to fly,

for example)

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can emerge as early as infancy. Mothers often report that children later diagnosed with the disorder were extremely difficult to settle and slept erratically. They seemed extraordinarily clingy, and from a very young age often had uncontrollable, seizure-like tantrums or rages out of proportion to any event. The word "no" often triggered these rages.

In adolescents, bipolar disorder may resemble the following classical adult

presentation of the illness.

Bipolar I. In this form of the disorder, the adolescent experiences

alternating episodes of intense and sometimes psychotic mania and


Symptoms of mania include:

elevated, expansive or irritable mood

decreased need for sleep

racing speech and pressure to keep talking

grandiose delusions

excessive involvement in pleasurable but risky activities

increased physical and mental activity

poor judgment

in severe cases, hallucinations

Symptoms of depression include:

pervasive sadness and crying spells

sleeping too much or inability to sleep

agitation and irritability

withdrawal from activities formerly enjoyed

drop in grades and inability to concentrate

thoughts of death and suicide

low energy

significant change in appetite

Periods of relative or complete wellness occur between the episodes.

(Source: CABF Web site: www.bpkids.org.)



If you are the parent of a child or teenager you suspect may suffer from depression or bipolar disorder, or you think you may need help, a number of resources are available. Here are a few.

Support Groups:

Parents of Bipolar Children Support Group of the Pikes Peak Region. Coordinators Kris Fronk and Linda Reinberger conduct support group meetings at 11 a.m., the second Saturday of each month at 7834 N. Academy Blvd. For more information, call Fronk at 347-0286 or Reinberger at 528-8338.

Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association of Colorado Springs conducts support groups and offers information to patients and families. Call 477-1515 for information.


The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Green. Excellent resource on parenting techniques for adults with bipolar children.

The Bipolar Child: The Definative Guide to Childhood's Most Misunderstood Disorder by Demitri Papolos, M.D., and Janice Papolos.

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison, an adult account of living with bipolar disorder.

Diagnostic guides:

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

hotline, 800/950-6264, or online at www.nami.org. offers information on the diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder in children.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 800/333-7636 or online, www.aacap.org.

Suicide prevention:

Colorado Springs Suicide Prevention Partnership, a member of the American Association of Suicidology, provides a 24-hour, 7-day crisis phone line: 719/596-5433.

Online resources:

Childhood and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation, www.bpkids.org. This Web site includes checklists of possible symptoms of early-onset bipolar disorder in children and adolescents, emphasizing that "the illness looks different in children than it does in adults."

There are many personal Web sites about bipolar disorder and depression, many aimed at children and adolescents and their parents. See about.com's mental health section or do a simple search on Yahoo.com or Google.com using key words "bipolar disorder" and "depression." An excellent, free Internet resource is John McManamy's newsletter on bipolar disorder and related issues. E-mail: jmacmanamy@snet.net and put "newsletter" in the subject line and in the e-mail body to be placed on the newsletter mailing list.

Medical care referral and treatment:

Cedar Springs Hospital. Call 633-4114.

Devereux Cleo Wallace. Call 527-1600

St. Francis Behavioral Health. Call 776-8482.

Pikes Peak Mental Health. Call 573-9514.


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