There’s a certain misconception that children are “too young” and don’t have enough life experience to have a mental illness, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Studies show the age of onset for mental disorders usually occurs in childhood or adolescence. Of course, these mental disorders are often unrecognized by our peers and parents, and both diagnosis and treatment typically don’t occur until years later.
If you live with bipolar disorder, there’s a chance you grew up with it. But what signs might there be in childhood? To find out, we asked our mental health and bipolar disorder communities to share “signs” they grew up with bipolar disorder they can recognize now as adults.
From childhood depression to being a “problem child” in school, we hope their answers can give you insight into your own childhood, or shine a light on why a child in your life could need some extra help and understanding.
Here’s what our community had to say:
1 “As a child, I was always way more sensitive than other children. I would break down for hours and cry. I thought about my death and my family’s deaths abnormally often. At 10, I lost parts of my hair from being so depressed, or I would have these hyper attacks where I would laugh for no reason for a long time and I could never stop talking. I’d also be cleaning my whole room over and over again. It was exhausting.” — Morgan T.
2 “Not knowing who you are without your disorder. I have become comfortable with my sadness; it’s all I know. If I have an ‘OK’ day, I don’t even know how to feel about myself. I don’t feel like me when I’m not depressed.” — Shannon M.
3 “I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I reached my 40s, but looking back, my erratic sexual and spending behavior, in addition to my bouts of depression, should have been major red flags. I had no idea it was due to bipolar; I just figured I was ‘screwed up.’” — Jessi F.
4 “I started cycling at 12 years old so I have no idea what the Alysha without bipolar disorder is like. It’s also why I say ‘I am bipolar,’ instead of ‘I have bipolar.’” — Alysha F.
5 “Irritability. I was always irritable, no matter what. That’s why, when I was diagnosed, everything I felt started making sense.” — Katelyn S.
6 “I was always super sensitive and prone to anger outbursts. I could also focus on something so intently the world would fade away. I’m still angry and sensitive but therapy is helping me get through it.” — Beth B.
7 “Thinking I was invincible at 14. I would sneak out at night and go on walks because I couldn’t sleep, I would still wake up in time for school but could only sleep four or five hours a night. I walked a lot just because I had the energy during the day and then more at night.” — Cassandra K.
8 “Growing up, my parents and sibling thought I had inherited my father’s extreme anger and violence. My teachers and fellow students thought I was just lashing out and enjoyed getting into fights at school, constantly getting suspended, until ninth grade when I was asked to leave. This all started when I was around 5 years old, but it was not until I turned 12 that a doctor told me I had bipolar disorder. Growing up and constantly being misunderstood, from my feelings to my behaviors, is one sign I grew up with bipolar disorder.” — Samantha W.
9 “Everyone else thought something was ‘wrong’ with me. I had impulse control issues and was so afraid I’d be disliked that I’d lie to be liked. I was diagnosed 21 years ago.” — Sasha S.
10 “The cycles I had with my moods. I would do great in the spring and summer, but as soon as it hit August and fall started approaching, it all went downhill. I always knew it was around the time that school was starting that I would start to cycle into an episode, so it would increase my anxiety and I would absolutely dread going to school. I never realized it was a sign until recently, when my team and I figured out my cycles and it all just clicked and made sense. I was diagnosed at 17, but honestly I think I’ve been bipolar since I was probably between 8 and 10 years old.” — Megan D.
11 “I would have painting sprees. I wouldn’t want to paint for a while, and then all of a sudden I would do like two paintings a day in middle school and high school, convinced I was getting visions from God, and it was my duty to share my genius with the world. Sometimes, I fantasized about my death, wondering what it would be like at my funeral and how no one would come except my mom and dad, or people would stomp on my grave and laugh at me. In my freshman year of college, I didn’t sleep and stayed up all night doing homework full of energy, and I always forgot to eat. I became very religious and believed I was getting visions from God again. For the first time in my life, I was a social butterfly. I did many paintings and even started a website out of the blue. Then I crashed for the first time in my life and started having suicidal thoughts. I have always either been heavily invested with something and then suddenly not interested in that thing or activity at all.” — Zoe S.
12 “I never slept, but was never really tired. I just chalked it up to being a kid and having energy, and then as a teen, having a night job and then having to do homework once I got home. I also repressed everything.” — Morgan W.
13 “I was very shy, reserved and sensitive. I had a lot of fears and cried very easily. But then there were times when I would stay up for days with little to no sleep, cleaning and rearranging the house. My mom thought it was odd but harmless so she didn’t stress over it. As soon as I was diagnosed, it all made sense.” — Courtney B.
14 “I spent weeks remodeling my bedroom, covering every inch of wall with collages and pictures. I even built a table. Then, a year later, I ripped all of it off the walls in an hour leaving blotches of drywall and became depressed for weeks. I was 16.” — Emma T.
15 “As far back as 6 years old, I would do great in the fall with school and family. Every spring without fail, and still at age 49, I have three weeks of productivity and fun followed by three weeks of the most rage and hostility I had ever known. Those were my first memories in general.” — Beth P.
16 “Being described as ‘the problem child’ because people thought you were just dramatic and a mess; they didn’t realize the behavior was uncontrollable due to the mental illness.” — Sabrina G.