Bipolar disorder is a potentially lifelong and disabling condition characterised by episodes of mania (abnormally elevated mood or irritability and related symptoms with severe functional impairment or psychotic symptoms for 7 days or more) or hypomania (abnormally elevated mood or irritability and related symptoms with decreased or increased function for 4 days or more) and episodes of depressed mood. It is often comorbid with other disorders such as anxiety disorders, substance misuse, personality disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The peak age of onset is 15 to 19 years, and there is often a substantial delay between onset and first contact with mental health services. The lifetime prevalence of bipolar I disorder (mania and depression) is estimated at 1% of the adult population, and bipolar II disorder (hypomania and depression) affects approximately 0.4% of adults. Bipolar disorder in children under 12 years is very rare.

Since the publication of the previous NICE guideline (CG38) in 2006, there have been some important advances in our knowledge of the care pathway and treatment approaches that are most likely to benefit people with bipolar disorder. All areas of CG38 have been updated.

This guideline covers the recognition, assessment and management of bipolar disorder in children, young people and adults. It includes specific recommendations for diagnosis in children and young people because presentation in these age groups can be complicated by other conditions such as ADHD. The recommendations apply to people with bipolar I, bipolar II, mixed affective and rapid cycling disorders. Non‑bipolar affective disorders are not covered because these are addressed by other guidelines, and this guideline does not make specific recommendations about other mental disorders that commonly coexist with bipolar disorder.

Safeguarding children

Remember that child maltreatment:

  • is common

  • can present anywhere, such as emergency departments, primary and secondary care and community settings (such as the child's home).

Be aware of or suspect abuse as a contributory factor to or cause of bipolar disorder in children. Abuse may also coexist with bipolar disorder. See NICE's guideline on child maltreatment for clinical features that may be associated with maltreatment.

This section has been agreed with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.