Medication is the primary treatment for bipolar disorder in children and teens (as it is in adults). Nine out of ten young people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder are prescribed drugs. The most commonly prescribed medications are mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.
“If your child is bipolar, he or she will need to take a mood stabilizer, such as lithium, and maybe other drugs,” says Mani Pavuluri, MD, PhD, director of the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Its best for parents to be collaborators rather than passive responders to their childs psychiatrist. There may be mismanagement and overdiagnosis, and children react to medication in different ways.”
Depending on the age of the child and his or her symptoms, talk therapy and other forms of counseling (including family therapy) may also be useful. Talk therapy usually cannot serve as a substitute for medication, however.
Most children and teens with bipolar disorder will require treatment for years, and in some cases for life. A 2008 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that nearly 45% of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder experienced manic episodes after the age of 18; more than 35% were reported to have a substance use disorder.