Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that usually begins in the late teenage years or early adulthood.
People with bipolar disorder can experience mood shifts between depressive and manic episodes.
It is important to note that many teenagers go through shifts in mood during puberty as their bodies adapt to changing hormones. Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is a condition that disrupts a person’s daily life and requires treatment.
Caregivers need to understand bipolar disorder and how it relates to teens. This will help them spot the early signs and differentiate bipolar disorder from typical mood changes.
Bipolar disorder is a long lasting condition that causes drastic changes in a person’s mood and energy levels.
This radical change is usually between two states called manic and depressive. However, some people will experience only mania and not depression.
During a manic episode, a person feels unusually energized or excited and might be more active than usual.
They may describe themselves as feeling extremely happy or as though they are high on life. They may also engage in impulsive behaviors during these times.
During a depressive episode, a person feels sad, down, or hopeless. They may be much less active than usual and have little or no interest in the things that would usually excite them.
Between these stages, people may return to relatively typical mood and behavior.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but people can manage their symptoms using a range of treatments, such as medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Bipolar disorder can arise at any age, including in children, but it most commonly develops in the late teens and early adult years. An estimated 2.8 percent of people over the age of 18 years in the United States have bipolar disorder.
The prevalence of the condition in men and women is approximately the same.
When symptoms show up during a person’s adolescence or teenage years, it is important to consider that they are already going through a lot of changes due to puberty and hormonal shifts.
As a result, doctors will want to take great care to monitor the teen to ensure that they are not mistaking typical mood changes for signs of bipolar disorder.
Signs to look out for during a manic episode include:
- a short temper or unusual outbursts
- appearing extremely happy or acting very silly in a way that is not typical for people their age
- trouble sleeping or not sleeping at all
- not feeling tired
- having trouble staying focused on one thing
- talking very quickly or trying to talk about many things at once
- talking or thinking about sex or engaging in it more often
- risky or impulsive behaviors
- inflated ego or feeling very self-important
During a depressive episode, signs to look out for include:
- feeling very sad or depressed
- crying regularly
- feeling lonely or isolating themselves
- complaining about pains, such as headaches or stomachaches
- feeling guilty
- feeling worthless
- feeling angry or irritated with no known cause
- changes in eating habits, for example, eating too much or too little
- having very little energy even if they got enough sleep
- taking little interest in activities that would usually excite them
- romanticizing death or thinking about taking their own life
In adults, an episode may range in duration from a few weeks to a few months. Between episodes, people may experience periods in which they have normal moods.
They may also worry about the disorder itself and be upset or frustrated with their symptoms and not knowing the root cause. It is important to understand that this is not merely a mood that a teenager can pull themselves out of easily. Bipolar disorder is a serious medical condition that requires treatment.
Bipolar disorder is a complex condition, and doctors do not fully understand what causes it.
However, they believe that genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry may all play a role in causing bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorders may also accompany other disorders. As a study that featured in Child and Adolescent Mental Health pointed out, there is between a 20 and 80 percent chance that a person with bipolar disorder will also experience another disorder, such as:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- anxiety disorders
- disruptive behavior disorders
- substance use disorders
These accompanying disorders can make diagnosing bipolar disorder quite challenging, as some symptoms of these disorders overlap and may appear to be symptoms of bipolar disorder.
It may be more challenging for a doctor to diagnose bipolar disorder in teens than in adults, and this process may take some time.
As there are no blood tests or brain scans that can confirm bipolar disorder, doctors will first want to ask the individual about their medical history before asking them to describe their sleeping patterns and mood changes.
The doctor may ask similar questions to a guardian to get a more well-rounded picture of the teen’s behaviors. They may also ask about the family’s medical history to find out about any relatives with depression or substance use disorders.
Doctors may want to monitor the teen for a period and refer them to a psychologist or psychiatrist. However, symptoms can be so severe that hospitalization may be necessary to keep the adolescent safe.
A healthcare professional may also test for any other accompanying conditions, as these symptoms may appear to be symptoms of bipolar disorder.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but people can manage their symptoms using a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.
Treatment in teens is usually the same as treatment in adults.
Doctors may prescribe a few different types of medication to help teens manage their symptoms, and more than one drug may sometimes be necessary.
Doctors may recommend the following medications:
- antidepressant drugs, under special circumstances
- mood stabilizers
- antipsychotic drugs
- anti-anxiety drugs, in small amounts
The right medication may change from person to person, and finding the right combination and dosage is critical to managing the condition.
Therapy is the other important part of treatment. Forms of talk therapy may help teens cope with the disorder and understand what they are going through. Therapy may also help teens understand their behavioral patterns and manage their routines more effectively.
Therapy techniques for teens with bipolar disorder include:
- psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy
- family-focused therapy
- interpersonal therapy
Bipolar disorder may change as the person matures, and their treatment plan will need to change along with it. Anyone noticing unwanted side effects should talk to their doctor about changing the type or dosage of their medications.
As a guardian, it is essential to support a teen with bipolar disorder and help them find effective treatments. Be patient with them and try to understand how difficult it is for them to deal with this condition. Encourage teens to talk about their feelings, and then listen to what they have to say. Help them keep track of their symptoms to discuss with a therapist later.
Encourage teens with bipolar disorder to maintain a healthful lifestyle. Overall, as a guardian or friend of a teen with bipolar, be supportive and help them have fun and enjoy life.
Making an early diagnosis in teenagers means doctors can provide them with the treatment they need and allow the individuals to understand what they are going through.
Working directly with their healthcare provider and therapists, many people with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms and control the disorder using a combination of medication and therapy.