Signs of Bipolar Disorder in Teens
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 50% of all chronic mental conditions begin by age 14 and 75% of them begin by age 24. That means that the majority of people with mental illness begin showing symptoms during their adolescence. It’s important to identify symptoms and obtain professional help for teens for two main reasons: 1) mental health conditions are easier to treat in earlier stages, and 2) many mental health conditions can lead to risky behaviors that can have serious consequences.
Bipolar disorder is one such chronic mental illness that generally appears in adolescence. When someone has bipolar disorder, there’s a problem with the way their brain regulates their moods, which affects the individual’s attitude, energy level, activity, and whether they can function in their everyday life. Bipolar disorder is often episodic, which means that the individual will have episodes of feeling very sad and discouraged, as well as episodes of feeling very happy and excited. In either phase, their moods are very intense. The mood changes in bipolar disorder are extreme, often unprovoked, and accompanied by changes in sleep, energy level, and the ability to think clearly. Bipolar symptoms can make it hard for young people to perform well in school or to get along with friends and family members. While the disorder is episodic, it lasts for a lifetime and must be treated by a mental health professional.
With treatment, people with bipolar disorder can manage their symptoms and lead successful lives. This is why it’s important to recognize the signs and get your teen help.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Teens
Although the symptoms in teens are similar to those of adults, they may be harder to identify simply because teens are known for their moodiness and rebellion. It’s hard for parents to distinguish between normal teen angst and a more serious mental health condition.
Teens with bipolar disorder will likely have manic episodes, in which they’re elated and extremely energetic, as well as depressive episodes, in which your teen feels sad and hopeless Contrary to myths, people with bipolar disorder don’t bounce rapidly from depression to mania. An individual with bipolar disorder can go long periods of time without episodes. The majority of people with bipolar disorder spend more time in a depressive state; in fact, an individual only needs one manic episode to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Below are signs of each episode.
Symptoms of Manic Episodes
Mania has symptoms that are related to changes in a person’s energy and mood and must occur most of the time for most days of a week during an episode. Some of the symptoms include:
- High mood and/or elation
- Excessive energy
- Increased goal-directed activity
- Exaggerated optimism
- Inflated sense of importance, talent, or power not based in reality (grandiosity)
- Rapid speech
- Restless, agitation or irritability
- Being easily distracted and/or difficulty concentrating
- Sleeping less without feeling tired
- Increased sexual activity or interest that is age-inappropriate
- Impulsive actions and/or poor judgment
- Risky or reckless behaviors
A typical depressive episode would include very sad feelings, negative thoughts, and lack of energy every day for at least two weeks. Some of the symptoms include:
- Prolonged sad or irritable mood
- Feeling tired or having low energy
- Slowed speech and movement
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Eating too much or too little
- Finding little enjoyment in life
- Loss of interest in things they usually enjoy
- Difficulty concentrating and/or forgetfulness
- Feelings of worthlessness and/or low self-esteem
- Feelings of extreme guilt without a real reason for it
- Trouble making decisions
- Relationship problems
- Lots of complaints about headaches, stomach aches, or body aches
- Isolating themselves
- Thoughts of death or suicide
It’s important to realize that all of these symptoms listed will likely sound very familiar to almost every parent of a teen. Adolescents are inherently moody and emotional, and they suffer through many of the signs listed. If their symptoms are very mild or don’t happen very often or for very long, they are likely just a natural part of life and growing up. In addition, you would need to observe several of the signs listed, not just one or two.
If you are seeing several of the above symptoms, please make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician who will be able to determine if there is cause to see a mental health professional and provide a recommendation for a quality service provider. It’s also important to note that symptoms of bipolar disorder can also be signs of other conditions. For example, stomachaches and low energy may be a sign of a medical problem. So, it’s important for a pediatrician to rule out other mental and physical disorders before anyone assumes your teen has a mental health disorder.
Being aware of these symptoms does not mean that you can diagnose your child yourself. This knowledge allows you to stay alert and seek help if it appears necessary. Only a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist can make a diagnosis and provide your teen with an appropriate treatment.
It can be scary to suspect that your child has bipolar disorder, but visiting a doctor can help your child get an accurate diagnosis and start treatment, if needed. Early treatment may help prevent the condition from worsening and minimize the consequences of risky decisions. That way, they can enter adulthood with confidence and control over their disorder. If your child has bipolar disorder, the best things you can do are be patient, remember that treatment takes time, learn strategies to help your teen manage intense emotions, and help your teen understand that treatment can make their life better.