Bipolar disorder (bi meaning two) is characterized by the swing of moods between mania and depression. In fact, a teen’s levels of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephine are often so chaotic, it is difficult for them to remain emotionally stable throughout the day. For instance, an adolescent might wake up in the morning with such a low level of dopamine that he feels severely depressed, and then by late afternoon, his mood has shifted to an elevated state. Often, it takes medication to help balance out the emotional mood swings experienced by a teen with bipolar disorder.
But this is not the only problem that teens with bipolar disorder will face. Think about the challenges that come with depression alone.
A teen with bipolar disorder might bear the symptoms of depression, which include:
- Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Loss of interest in sexual activity
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Difficulty making decisions, concentrating or focusing
- Difficulty with memory
- Restlessness or irritability
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Suicidal ideation
In addition to these symptoms, bipolar teens are at some point prone to swing into a manic state. This experience includes:
- Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
- Excessively “high”, euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability
- Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to the other
- Distractibility – an inability to concentrate
- Unrealistic beliefs about one’s abilities
- Poor judgment
- Spending sprees
- Increased sex drive
- Little sleep
- Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
- Denial that anything is wrong
As any parent or caregiver can imagine, this is a difficult illness to cope with. Teens with this disorder will need plenty of professional and personal support. Additionally, here are some other challenges that teens with bipolar disorder may experience:
To cope, teens may turn to substance use.
For those teens with the illness who have a hard time coping, substance use is often the answer. It’s not surprising to know that approximately 40% of teens with Bipolar Disorder also have a substance abuse disorder. Cocaine use, for example, could help amplify a high while the use of marijuana could help with lowering mood if adolescents feel too hyper or manic. In order to manage the ups and downs of mania and depression, a teen may turn to drugs and alcohol. This is especially true if teens are surrounded by peers who use substances themselves. In addition to this, teens with bipolar disorder tend to engage in risky behavior, especially when feeling manic. And one type of dangerous behavior that can come with addiction is substance use.
Mania may drive a teen to do something they regret.
Teens with Bipolar Disorder may be more susceptible to risky behavior, including acting on suicidal thoughts or deciding to do something dangerous prompted by a manic thought. Although mania may sound like an excited and elevated mood, it brings intensity, dangerous choices, risky behavior, and often little awareness of any potential consequences.
Risky behavior may include irresponsible sexual activity.
Research indicates that one in every seven female teens will have a child before the age of 20. In general, the birth rate for girls between the ages of 15-19 is 29 per every 1000. Furthermore, one study, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that female adolescents who already have a mental illness are more likely to become pregnant than teenage girls without a mental health diagnosis, and this is particularly true for teens with bipolar disorder.
To make matters worse, sometimes the symptoms of bipolar disorder can contribute to the development of other mental illnesses. For instance, the depression a bipolar teen experiences often comes with a lack of concentration and focus. This inability to focus may become so severe that they are diagnosed with ADHD. Of course, having both illnesses can impair a teen’s school performance, relationships, and self-confidence. Similarly, an adolescent with bipolar disorder might also experience anxiety, including separation anxiety, social anxiety, or PTSD.
If you are a parent or caregiver of a teen with this illness, it’s important that you are getting two types of support:
- Professional and personal assistance for your teen.
- Professional and personal assistance for you.
If needed, seek the support of a mental health professional. Find support groups for you and your teen. Be sure to follow the direction of your teen’s psychiatrist and remember that self-care for you and your teen will make a world of difference.