Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder in which feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and perceptions are altered in the context of biochemical episodes of mania and depression. Previously referred to as Manic-Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder was once thought to occur rarely in children and adolescents.  However, research has found that approximately 20% of adults with Bipolar Disorder had symptoms beginning in adolescence.  Additionally, the clarification of a differential diagnosis between Bipolar Disorder and ADHD is critical in determining the appropriate course of treatment and possible psychopharmacological agents.

The DSM-V does not distinguish adult-onset from childhood or adolescent-onset of Bipolar Disorder.  The diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder are the same regardless of a patient's age at the onset of symptoms.  However, in older children and adolescents, Bipolar Disorder may be a more severe form with increased risk of suicide attempts and or explosive behavior in the school, family, vocational and social settings. Additionally, youth with Bipolar Disorder are at an increased risk for substance abuse, high risk behaviors, suicidal ideations and or attempts, and an earlier threshold for psychosis since the brain is unable to handle the contemporary demands of the fast-paced, stimulus-overloaded environment that children live.

A COMPREHENSIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION is crucial to assess whether a child has symptoms akin to a Bipolar Disorder or ADHD, since there is so much overlap of symptoms, which can only be thoroughly diagnosed by a comprehensive psychological evaluation.