Causes & Effects of Bipolar Disorder

No one experiences bipolar disorder the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of bipolar disorder is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder often require some form of therapeutic intervention in order to alleviate the symptoms of this debilitating mental health condition. Young people, including children and those in the adolescent stage of life, are no exception to this when this type of mental illness is a factor in a person’s life. Youth with this condition could especially benefit from treatment for bipolar disorder since it can impact a young person’s development in a myriad of ways. Furthermore, young people with bipolar disorder are likely to experience a great deal of disruption in their social and academic lives when this disorder is present.

Key symptoms to look out for if it is suspected that a child or adolescent is battling this disorder are mood swings that fluctuate between manic states and depressive states and poor impulse control. Allowing symptoms such as these to remain untreated can eventually lead a young person to use or abuse substances, have interaction with law enforcement due to engaging in risky or criminal activity, and unstable or unhealthy interpersonal relationships with others. Luckily, there are viable treatment options available that can alleviate symptoms, reduce these risks, and allow young people with this disorder to live happy and emotionally stable lives.


Bipolar disorder statistics

While there is still a great deal of debate around the concept of children and adolescents meeting diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder, many experts in the field of mental health believe that many young people suffer from this condition. The reason for this doubt pertains to the fact that an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder is more definitive once a person reaches late adolescence or early adulthood. However, The National Institute of Mental Health has supplied evidence that between 0 and 3% of children and adolescents suffer from symptoms synonymous with bipolar disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

Experts in the field of mental health agree that several contributing factors cause the development of bipolar disorder. This belief stems from the fact that the isolated origin of this condition has yet to be realized. The following elaborations on this belief explain how a person can come to suffer from this devastating mental health condition:

Genetic: Research has concluded that it is possible for a person to have a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder. For individuals who have a family history of this condition, especially if there is a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder, there is a high likelihood that those individuals will display symptoms of this disorder as well. In fact, conclusive research has stated that youth with a parent who suffers from bipolar disorder have a 15-25% chance of developing this illness at some point as well.

Physical: One of the most common causes for bipolar disorder has to do with a person’s brain chemistry. Neurochemicals in the brain are responsible for managing mood, and impulses need to be balanced in order for an individual to respond to stress appropriately and resist impulsive urges. When a person meets diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder, these chemicals are not in balance and cause a person to have dysregulated moods and poor impulse control.

Environmental: If a youth possesses a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder, it is possible that certain environmental influences can trigger the onset of bipolar disorder or cause the exacerbation of symptoms when this disorder is present. Additionally, some research has suggested that even if a person does not have a family history of this condition, there is a chance that certain situations or environmental factors may cause bipolar disorder to develop. Examples of such situations or factors can include the use and/or abuse of substances, exposure to stress or trauma, and experiencing abrupt life changes.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a biological parent who suffers from bipolar disorder
  • Experiencing significant trauma
  • Engaging in substance abuse
  • Experiencing major life changes and stressors
  • Having a personal or family history of other forms of mental illness

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Young people who battle bipolar disorder may present with symptoms that vary in severity. Because some youth will experience more manic symptoms than depressive symptoms and vice versa, it is necessary to consider the presence of any and all symptoms that would suggest a child or adolescent is suffering from this mental health condition. The following behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms are part of the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder and, if they are present, should be reported to a mental health professional in the event treatment is sought:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Manipulative behaviors
  • Explosive, unprovoked temper tantrums or outbursts that are grossly out of proportion to the present circumstances
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Rapid speech
  • Hoarding
  • Restlessness / excessive fidgeting
  • Self-injuring
  • Extremely oppositional behaviors
  • Overly defiant behaviors
  • Hypersexuality

Physical symptoms:

  • Extreme fluctuations in body temperature
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Bedwetting
  • Motor tics
  • Exaggerated states of arousal
  • Vocal tics
  • Needing excessive amounts of sleep or not needing any sleep at all

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Experiencing hallucinations
  • Experiencing delusions
  • Poor working memory
  • Racing thoughts

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feelings of low self-esteem or low self-worth
  • Prolonged periods of emotional excitability
  • Feelings of grandiosity


Effects of bipolar disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be extremely destructive to a young person’s life. The drastic emotional highs and lows, along with the brash behaviors that are commonly associated with this condition, can ultimately lead to a number of harmful effects and consequences that can be life-altering. Therapeutic interventions, such as psychotherapy and the implementation of psychotropic medications, can significantly reduce the likelihood of these effects occurring. The following are avoidable in the event a youth receives proper care to alleviate the symptoms of this devastating mental illness:

  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Future difficulty successfully establishing or maintaining a career
  • Social isolation
  • Academic failure
  • Self-injury
  • Criminal involvement
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Inability to develop and maintain healthy, lasting relationships
  • Development of another mental health condition

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Children and adolescents who suffer from symptoms of bipolar disorder are often likely to suffer from symptoms of another mental health condition at the same time. The listed disorders are examples of mental illnesses that can be diagnosed alongside a diagnosis of bipolar disorder:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Substance use disorders
What Past Clients Say

My moods were out of control and it wasn't until I was expelled from school that I realized how bad it was. Since learning how to manage my bipolar disorder at DBI, I'm doing so much better!

– A former client