The difference between Bipolar and ADHD in children and teenagers

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Bipolar disorder or manic depression, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder usually referred to as ADHD are very different conditions but often enough the symptoms in children and young adults can be very similar.

Symptoms of Bipolar

The symptoms of bipolar can be divided into depressive symptoms and manic symptoms.

According to the NHS symptoms that are characteristic of a depressive episode of bipolar include sadness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, a lack of interest in activities, memory problems, pessimism, sleeping too much, illogical thinking, and suicidal thoughts.

Symptoms of a manic phase include euphoria, boundless energy, inflated sense of self importance, impulsive behaviour, delusions and hallucinations, illogical thinking, talking very quickly, needing very little sleep and having grand ideas or plans.

Symptoms of ADHD

Regarding ADHD, the NHS divides the symptoms into three categories:

Inattentiveness – having a short attention span, easily distracted, making careless mistakes, unable to follow instructions or carry out a task, poor listening skills and difficulty organising tasks.

Hyperactivity – can’t sit still, fidgeting all the time, excessive talking, always moving about

Impulsiveness – unable to wait for a turn, interrupting conversations, breaking rules, and little or no sense of danger

Getting a diagnosis

In general but not always, symptoms of ADHD usually become apparent before the age of 7 whereas in bipolar disorder it is often during adolescence.

However, the main difference between bipolar disorder and ADHD is that bipolar disorder is characterised by episodes of severe mood swings from mania to depression whereas ADHD is primarily an attention and behavioural problem.

What makes an accurate diagnosis more difficult in young people is that teenagers are going through an intensely emotional time with many changes occurring in their body. They will often be irritable and experience mood swings which most of the time are a perfectly normal part of growing up.

The best bet is to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional that is familiar with both ADHD and Bipolar.


ADHD will normally be treated with medication and behaviour therapy whereas bipolar disorder is usually treated with antipsychotic drugs.

Interestingly, fish oil has been shown in many studies to be effective for both ADHD and bipolar disorder and indeed, people with mental health problems in general often have low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in their blood.

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