Need support now? Help is available. Call, text, or chat 988outbound call

School and Bipolar Disorder

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Bipolar disorder is a common mental health condition. It is most often diagnosed in young adulthood before age 25. While it is less common, it does occur in school-age children.1

Bipolar disorder causes large, noticeable changes in a person’s mood, energy levels, and behavior. It used to be called manic depression because a person’s moods swing between mania and depression.1,2

Children and teens with bipolar disorder often have trouble doing well in school due to their symptoms. Both mania and depression can make it hard to concentrate and finish tasks, which leads to poor academic performance. Poor grades or problems socializing can contribute to low self-esteem, which can increase depression.1,2

Also, mania can make it impossible for a child to sit still in class. Mania also makes children irritable, reckless, aggressive, and impatient.1,2

IEPs and 504 plans

Schools that receive government funding are required to make accommodations for any child or teen with a health condition that affects their ability to learn. There are 2 types of plans used to document what a child needs and how their school agrees to accommodate them. These are the individualized education program (IEP) and the 504 education plan.2

The IEP is a special education plan for students with a disability that requires them to be taken out of a regular classroom and educated in a special classroom. It also covers students who need the school to provide extra services such as talk therapy, occupational therapy, social work services, or speech and language services.3

A 504 education plan is a plan for managing a student’s learning disability in the regular classroom. Each child’s plan is developed with input from the parents, teachers, doctor, and therapist. Each state has slightly different rules and guidelines for the 504. They are also individualized, so your child’s plan may look different than another’s.4

IEP and 504 plans generally are updated once a year.3,4

Accommodations for a child with bipolar disorder

Children with bipolar disorder may need certain accommodations to help them do better in school. These may include:2

  • Sitting near the front of the room to help reduce distractions
  • A consistent schedule
  • Extra time for homework and tests
  • Make-up exams after missing class for doctor’s visits
  • Permission to drink water during class and more bathroom breaks if medicines cause dry mouth or thirst
  • Breaks for rest or naps if medicines cause sleepiness
  • Encouragement to join in school activities
  • A plan for a “safe place” and “safe person” for times when the student feels overwhelmed or needs to rest or talk

It is also vital that teachers and school administrators take a child seriously if they talk about dying or suicide.2

Supporting learning at home

Children with bipolar disorder need the same support and self-management techniques that adults do. To help a child minimize their mood swings and learn as effectively as possible, loved ones should encourage:1

  • Daily exercise
  • Consistent sleep
  • A healthy diet
  • Sticking to a prescription medicine plan
  • Keeping therapy and doctor’s appointments
  • Establishing a schedule

Loved ones and teachers also should praise positive behaviors and accomplishments. With consistent management and extra support when needed, children with bipolar disorder can get an education that supports them into adulthood.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.