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What Are the Signs of Bipolar in a Teenager?

Arastou Aminzadeh Nov 21, 2019
Moodiness and teenagers - although the two go hand-in-hand, at what point should a parent become concerned that their teen’s mood swings may not be run-of-the-mill? When should bipolar disorder be considered a potential explanation for the intense mood shifts a teen is exhibiting?
There are other explanations for the teen’s mood swings. The teen may be actually suffering from another condition that is exacerbating their emotional stability. Possibly the teen has undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a conduct disorder, or he or she might be into drugs or alcohol.
There might be a difficult social situation happening at school, such as bullying. Also, the moodiness might just be a manifestation of the teen’s personality or temperament. So, what are the signs of bipolar in a teenager?
Taking into consideration the usual traits displayed by teens, such as irritability, moodiness, and angry outbursts, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher whether a teen’s behavior is within the normal range for the age group. But in the case of bipolar disorder, there are some red flags that should prompt a call to the doctor.

Signs of Bipolar in a Teenager

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that often emerges in the teen and early adult years. Bipolar disorder features extreme shifts between mania and depression, with one or the other predominate.
This means the teen displays more depressive episodes that manic episodes, or vice versa. When asking of signs of bipolar in a teenager, they include aspects as given here.

Depressive Episodes

  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Troubled relationships
  • Feelings of sadness, despair, and helplessness
  • Low self-esteem, feeling not good enough
  • Changes in eating habits, resulting in weight gain or loss
  • Hyper-sensitive to criticism or rejection
  • Feelings of anger or hostility
  • Loss of interest in extracurricular activities or hobbies
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent headaches, stomach aches
  • Suicidal thoughts

Manic Episodes

  • Hallucinations
  • Heightened sex drive
  • Engages in high risk behaviors
  • Increased energy level
  • Exuberant, grandiosity, euphoric
  • Very talkative
  • Tackles multiple projects
  • Decreased sleep
  • Exercises poor judgment
  • Highly irritable
  • Delusions
There is still no clear cause for someone developing bipolar disorder, although there does appear to be a genetic component. In fact, if there is a parent with bipolar disorder, the teen is nine times more likely to also develop the condition that a teen with no family history.
It is also believed that environmental factors and biochemical imbalances may also play a role. Boys and girls are equally affected by the disorder.

How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

When the symptoms related to the disorder become highly disruptive in daily life, the parent will seek professional guidance. If parents suspect bipolar disorder, they may ask “What are the signs of bipolar in a teenager?” to begin the conversation.
The symptoms may be related to a number of different conditions, so a thorough medical and psychological assessment must be made. Additionally, the evaluation may reveal that the teen is presenting with overlapping conditions, each of which will need to be addressed in the creating of a treatment strategy.
Diagnostic tools include conversations conducted with both the parents and the teen, medical records and exam results, mental health history, and results from standardized diagnostic tools for bipolar.

Two Varieties of Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar I: The teen alternates between depressive and manic episodes
  • Bipolar II: The teen experiences depressive episodes, but the mania is a less intensive form called hypomania.
Once the data has been reviewed, the doctor will arrive at a specific diagnosis (which may include a co-occurring disorder) and then create a treatment plan.

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

Teens with bipolar disorder will benefit from a multi-pronged approach to treatment. Generally, both medication and psychotherapy comprise the primary course of treatment.

Medications used for treating bipolar include antipsychotic and mood stabilizer categories, such as lithium, lamotrigine, and lurasidone.
Psychotherapy involves talk therapy and family-focused therapy that can help teach the teen and his or her family about how to manage bipolar disorder, as well as help the teen change destructive thought/behavior patterns that play into the depressive or manic episodes.
Psychotherapy in a teen treatment center can help the teen identify and work through issues related to the disorder, and provide new coping skills as well.
Psychosocial aspects of treatment are important for teens with bipolar disorder. The disorder often leads to strained interpersonal relationships, with disputes and discord stocking unrest in core relationships or at school.
Holistic methods that provide stress relief and emotion regulation effects are effective complementary measures. These can be accessed by the teen during either a manic episode or a depressive episode, and may include mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, journaling, exercise, and yoga.

How to Support Your Teen and Yourself

Having a teenager who struggles with bipolar disorder can be depleting. The disorder is unpredictable and can cause mayhem within the teen’s sphere. Having a solid support system in place for the teen, and the parents, will benefit all.
Teens may benefit from participating in a peer group with others who also struggle with bipolar disorder. Within this small, intimate setting teens are free to articulate their challenges or difficulties associated with the symptoms of the disorder.

They may bounce constructive ideas off each other, and just offer much needed peer support.
In school, if the symptoms of the disorder are disrupting academic performance or the school setting itself, an individualized education program might be helpful.

The IEP is an academic plan can assist both the teachers and the student in formulating a workable solution to challenges that the bipolar disorder might bring to the school setting.
Parents of a teen with bipolar should be aware of the strain the disorder places on their own wellness. Parents may become so wrapped up in their teen’s mental health issues that the stop taking care of their own needs.
Parents will benefit by engaging in psychotherapy, as well as getting regular exercise, eating nutritious diet, and continuing to engage socially with friends and coworkers.