If you are raising or working with adolescents, it’s helpful to equip yourself to recognize the signs of bipolar disorder in teens.
Many people are familiar with bipolar disorder through popular culture and word of mouth. You can probably think of at least one celebrity who is known to have bipolar disorder. But, just as with many mental health conditions, bipolar disorder often misunderstood and stigmatized, while also being under-diagnosed.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health conditions. However there is still much progress to be made, and bipolar disorder is no exception.
Identifying bipolar disorder in teens isn’t always simple. Symptoms often present differently than they do in adults. The average age for a bipolar diagnosis is 25.
While both boys and girls have similar rates of bipolar disorder, girls tend to have more symptoms of depression than of mania.
Maybe you’re curious about Christian counseling for bipolar disorder in teens. If you’re not familiar with the symptoms of bipolar disorder in children, teens, or adults, or if you’re wondering whether a loved one may have bipolar disorder, keep reading to learn more.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Here’s the definition from Cleveland Clinic: “Bipolar disorder is a chronic mood disorder that causes intense shifts in mood, energy levels and behavior.” We can begin by recognizing that bipolar disorder is chronic – it’s a cycle that occurs regularly and repeatedly.
Now, everyone experiences mood swings, and that’s especially true for adolescents. By contrast, bipolar disorder is a chronic pattern of extreme mood swings. Bipolar disorder used to be known as “manic depression.” Mania and depression are the two phases that characterize this condition.
The depressive phase of bipolar disorder may feel worse than the manic phase, but both are potentially harmful and distressing. The negative outcomes of bipolar disorder can include health impacts, suicidal ideation, reduced gray matter in the brain, and increased severity of untreated symptoms.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by significant and sometimes rapid changes in mood, between an emotional high known as mania, and an emotional low of depression.
Again, teenagers are known for mood swings, which is a normal part of life for anyone, and even more so during adolescence. (For girls, it’s vital to rule out premenstrual dysphoric disorder [PMDD], which may be a cooccurring disorder or may be mistaken for bipolar disorder.)
A person with BD will have a period of euphoric intensity. They may make rash decisions, take risks, spend beyond their means, experience insomnia, take on complex projects with little planning, etc. Often the behavior goes beyond rational decision-making.
During this stage, not only can mania further harm one’s mental health, it can also cause real-life consequences in other ways. Risk of physical injury is increased, along with financial consequences, and other outcomes from uninhibited behavior.
This manic stage will be followed by a “crash” into a depressive mood. The person with bipolar may become exhausted, feel deeply sad, lose motivation, and have trouble taking care of responsibilities. The insomnia and loss of appetite which often characterize the manic phase can morph into constant exhaustion and overeating.
The depressive period can be worsened by facing consequences of actions taken in the manic period. These consequences become triggers that can worsen the depression and create a vicious cycle.
Living with Bipolar Disorder.
Living with this condition can be extremely distressing for the person with BD as well as for their friends and family. Watching your loved one cycle through such extreme mood swings is upsetting and stressful, and his or her disorder may lead to him or her acting out in ways that can harm himself or herself and others.
For teens with BD, the normal upheaval of adolescence can make treating the disorder even more complex. Parents may question whether their child’s symptoms are normal or a sign of a serious mental health condition.
Teens are old enough to be a strong voice in their own treatment, which can make getting help for bipolar disorder difficult if they do not want treatment. That’s why we must be able to identify the signs of BD in teens and be able to share information with them in a compassionate and non-judgmental manner.
If you recognize your child or another young person in the descriptions above, keep reading to learn more about specific signs and symptoms. It can be helpful while educating yourself to keep a log of symptoms you notice, which can assist in the diagnostic process.
Signs of Bipolar Disorder in teens.
According to Stanford University, episodes of mania and depression often last around one to two weeks each. Since the symptoms of depression and mania are distinct from one another, it’s important to be aware of both, and then observe any patterns as they’re occurring.
Keep in mind that there are other disorders that could be mistaken for or occur alongside bipolar disorder, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, among others. Girls are more likely to be mistakenly diagnosed with depression when they really have BD, while boys are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. However, these conditions may need to be considered in light of your teen’s symptoms.
Depression symptoms can include:
- Loss of interest in normal activities and hobbies.
- Relationship difficulties.
- Appetite and/or weight changes.
- Low energy.
- Trouble focusing.
- Sadness, despair, helplessness.
- Suicidal ideations.
- Fatigue and other physical complaints.
- Threats to run away.
- Anger and aggression.
It may be difficult to tell what your teen is feeling if they don’t want to communicate it verbally, but many of these behaviors are observable even without having a conversation about them.
Mania symptoms can include:
- Changes in sleeping patterns, usually getting less sleep.
- Taking part in reckless behaviors, especially regarding driving, substance use, sexual activities, etc.
- Extreme talkativeness and/or silliness.
- A sense of grandiosity.
- Exhibiting poor judgment.
- Delusional thinking.
Again, part of what makes it difficult to diagnose bipolar in teens is that a certain level of these behaviors is normal in adolescence. However, if you’re concerned, don’t be afraid to seek professional advice.
Your teen may or may not exhibit all these symptoms. But if you notice more than a couple of them, pay attention to whether they’re occurring on a regular basis.
Bipolar disorder is distressing to experience and to witness, but it is treatable. Help is available.
Although we don’t know a direct cause for bipolar disorder, we do know that it can be triggered by stress or trauma. It also seems to have a strong genetic component: “Bipolar disorder is considered one of the most heritable psychiatric conditions – more than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close biological relative with the condition.” (Cleveland Clinic)
If your teen has recently experienced high levels of stress or a traumatic experience, be aware of the ways in which it could affect their mental health, or contribute to a condition such as BD.
If someone in your family has bipolar disorder, keep an eye out for similar symptoms in your teen. Early treatment is always a positive thing.
Rest assured that bipolar disorder is no one’s fault. With time and care, it can be managed well and symptoms can greatly abate.
Treatment options for Bipolar Disorder in teens.
It’s important to seek counseling for teens with bipolar disorder to get your teen help as early as possible. When you seek a counselor experienced in working with adolescents, you’ll be able to address the struggles teens may have in managing a mental health condition during an already-difficult stage of life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
“When manic, children and adolescents, in contrast to adults, are more likely to be irritable and prone to destructive outbursts than to be elated or euphoric. When depressed, there may be many physical complaints such as headaches, and stomachaches or tiredness; poor performance in school, irritability, social isolation, and extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure.”
If your teen does receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the next step is formulating a treatment plan in conjunction with your child’s doctor. Commonly-used treatments for bipolar in teens include talk therapy (including learning to recognize triggers and manage symptoms), IPSRT (interpersonal and social rhythm therapy), family-focused therapy (which allows caregivers to be involved in helping to manage symptoms and healing), and CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy).
If you are concerned about your teen’s mental health, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Give us a call or browse our directory of professional Christian counselors. Bipolar disorder is treatable, and you can start today with a counselor’s help.
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