What is early-onset bipolar disorder and why are we suddenly hearing so much about it? Early-onset bipolar disorder is manic-depression that appears early–very early–in life. For many years it was assumed that children could not suffer the mood swings of mania or depression, but researchers are now reporting that bipolar disorder (or early temperamental features of it) can occur in very young children, and that it is much more common that previously thought.
Is bipolar disorder in children the same thing as bipolar disorder in adults? Adults seem to experience abnormally intense moods for weeks or months at a time, but children appear to experience such rapid shifts of mood that they commonly cycle many times within the day. This cycling pattern is called ultra-ultra rapid or ultradian cycling and it is most often associated with low arousal states in the mornings (these children find it almost impossible to get up in the morning) followed by afternoons and evenings of increased energy.
It is not uncommon for the first episode of early-onset disorder to be a depressive one. But as clinical investigators have followed the course of the disorder in children, they have reported a significant rate of transition from depression into bipolar mood states.