Teen bipolar disorder (or manic-depressive disorder) is a brain disorder that causes unusually extreme shifts in mood, energy levels, and every day functioning. These shifts are much more prominent than the basic ups and downs that all people experience, and they are structured differently. Rather than experiencing the shifts on a frequent basis, they occur once every few weeks or months. This can leave a teen struggling with depressive thoughts for weeks, before bouncing into a manic, anxious phase.
Teen bipolar disorder can cause difficulty concentrating and performing in school, tension in relationships, and a loss of hope and direction, sometimes even leading to suicidal thoughts and/or attempts during depressive phases. This emotional and mental roller coaster can make keeping up with teen responsibilities and friendships very difficult, and during a crucial developmental period in life. Bipolar disorder is distinguished from the regular highs and lows of adolescence by the repeated patterns of fluctuation, and the extreme nature of the experience. Getting help with managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder during the teen years can result in a more successful, and more fulfilling, young adulthood.
Bipolar I Disorder – Characterized by severe manic or mixed episodes, usually lasting somewhere between 7-14 days. Because of the severity, people diagnosed with Bipolar I have often been hospitalized, arrested, or both, during an episode. This type of consequence is often due to a sense of invulnerability and a lack of long-term reasoning on the part of a teen experiencing a manic phase, or due to the pervasive feeling of utter hopelessness during a depressive phase.
Bipolar II Disorder – Characterized by a person going from a relatively high mood to a depressive low, but not experiencing a fully manic episode. These people may have strong shifts but usually do not experience the more prolonged and extreme behaviors of a manic episode. This, less severe, form of bipolar disorder can often be managed through learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms which accompany the shifts in mood, followed by learning how to put a self-care plan into place.
Rapid Cycling Disorder – Characterized by patients experiencing manic and depressive episodes at least four times in the same year, rather than experiencing a cycle or two cycles of each per year. The symptoms of this class of disorder are the same as with Bipolar I and II, but the shifts in mood and perspective on life occur more frequently. Experiencing such rapid shifts can make maintaining focus and drive toward long term goals a difficult task.
Mixed Episode Bipolar Disorder – Characterized by a patient experiencing manic and depressive states at the same time, and/or alternating very quickly between them. This may manifest in ways such as laughing and crying at the same time, or claiming to feel great while not being able to leave the bed. This mixed state of mind and emotion can last for several days, up to several months.
Cyclothymia – Characterized by slower shifts within states and episodes, carried out over a person’s lifetime. Also marked by milder depressive symptoms. Teens with this form of bipolar tendency may not recognize that it is different from what most people experience on a daily basis. If left unaddressed, it tends to become a pattern of life orientation which is continued into adulthood. The depression often manifests as a lack of inspiration and desire to move forward with goals, and the hypomanic episodes can be observed as the time when the teen ‘catches up’ on tasks that were neglected during the former phase. Sleep disturbances are often present, with both oversleeping, and not sleeping enough.
As a mood disorder, bipolar has several different possible causes. However, the biggest factor is typically family history. For an unknown reason, some people are genetically predisposed to struggle with a bipolar disorder. However, having someone in the family with a bipolar disorder doesn’t guarantee anything – it simply makes it more likely that the condition shows up again in posterity. Other significant causes of bipolar include:
Hormone imbalance – aside from genetics, a major hormone imbalance caused by a physical condition, such as a thyroid problem, adrenal gland issue, or a benign brain tumor, can cause a bipolar disorder to develop.
Excessive stress – traumatic events usually kick off the first cycle of depression or mania, if it doesn’t naturally occur sometime in adolescence. The death of a loved one or a traumatic disaster leading to trouble coping can lead to symptoms of a bipolar disorder.
of parents with bipolar disorder can pass it onto their children
of teens get drugs from friends and family
of adolescents with depression may be experiencing bipolar disorder
Learn to distinguish between phases – living with a teen struggling with bipolar disease can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that they’re fighting as hard as they can, too. Even on manic days, their behavior is not something they can easily control, and it’s important to know when their behavior is manic, depressive, normal, or something in between. Recognizing the symptoms and signs can be of tremendous help to you – which, in turn, will be of tremendous help to your teen. When supporting them, it’s important first to understand them.
Know what to say and what not to say – it’s critical that you choose your words wisely, always, especially during depressive phases. Depending on what type of bipolar disorder your teen has and how they’re dealing with it, the manic phase is usually more resilient than the depressive phase, but there are ways to deal with erratic or irrational behavior in both cases, and neither involve criticism or frustrated remarks. Remember to take care of your own health and sanity if you want to help your teen and know how to speak to them when they’re struggling with a depression, or with an over-active mind.
Know who to call – the emotional tide can turn quickly in cases of bipolar disorder, and what might seem like a great mood one day can turn into thoughts of suicide on the next. However, thoughts of suicide always precede acts of suicide. While you can’t tell what your teen is thinking without asking them, you can ask. Keeping an open line of communication with your teen and being honest with each other is a requirement in these situations. Always ask them to be frank with you and trust them as they should trust you. If their thoughts turn dire, know who and where to call to get emergency help.
The first step is asking for help. People with bipolar disorder often need immediate professional help, especially considering the depressive phase can lead to suicidal thoughts. The most successful teen bipolar disorder treatment lies in a combination of medication and counseling, but of course treatment looks different for everyone. The first step toward bipolar disorder treatment is an evaluation with a psychiatrist to determine what kind of treatment best suits you, which can be a comforting first step.
Medication for teen bipolar disorder treatment helps deal with the highs and lows, while providing a steadier mood overall. Doctors prescribe antipsychotics and/or mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder. These are not designed to make a teen numb to emotions, but rather, to return to experiencing emotions on a moderate level. Doctors will also prescribe medication to help treat a teen’s specific current symptoms, either depressive or manic, as well as help prevent any future extreme episodes.
Counseling is a powerful resource for teens with bipolar disorder, in providing them with people to talk to regarding their experiences of the episodes. Counselors help teens learn to navigate their thoughts and behaviors and learn how to separate their feelings from their actions. All these things help a teen to get back to living a “normal” life and returned sense of emotional balance, as soon as possible.
In severe cases, frequenting a residential mental health treatment facility can help a teen stave off the worst of their bipolar symptoms by living in a controlled and healing environment. This form of treatment is usually reserved for the hardest years in severe cases of bipolar disorder, and both treatment and medication can help a teen learn to cope with their mental health condition and live on their own, or with family.
Bipolar disorder can be a very scary thing to live with, and for many teens who struggle with it, the inability to fully trust your own thoughts is a very difficult position to be in. But with the right help, treatment, and therapy, you can live a long and fulfilling life. Paradigm Malibu works hard to help teens with all sorts of conditions, including mood disorders like bipolar.
A Place to Discover Yourself
Self-discovery is a critical part of early adulthood, but it may come a bit faster than expected in teens who struggle with mental health issues. Talk therapy is the primary way to help people with bipolar, specifically by teaching them how to recognize and confront the thoughts and behaviors that make them potentially dangerous to others or themselves. It’s impossible to completely turn the disorder off, but you can mitigate the effect it has on your life and lead a perfectly healthy life while diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Therapy can help do that.
I wanted to thank the staff and therapists at Paradigm Malibu who helped my niece through a very difficult period. They understood her complex mental health problems and treated accordingly, the center is close to the beach which also influenced our choice. The qualified therapists were courteous and professional and restored my niece to full health.
- Denise C.
What’s going to happen?
No one can tell you for sure what’s going to happen now, or in years to come. However, regardless of what the future holds, you’re no longer wrestling with bipolar disorder alone. Beginning teen bipolar disorder is a process that involves many questions and takes time, but there’s good reason to hope that you’re going to start feeling better soon and continue to improve, with time.
Is there a cure?
There is no quick cure to bipolar disorder. Medication and therapy can help a teen cope with the symptoms of their mental health condition and hopefully combat some of the causes. In cases where symptoms have a direct cause, such as a physical problem, addressing the initial issue can resolve the disorder. But in many other cases, it’s more a matter of remedying symptoms as they come and go. It’s hopeful and likely that a combination of medication and counseling will have powerful and lasting effects on your mood, state of being, and overall outlook and experience of life.