The Challenging Life of a Bipolar Teen

Bipolar Disorder is not an easy illness to cope with. It’s somewhat tricky because parts of the disorder itself feels good. Bipolar is a mood disorder that consists of both depression and manic periods. When the depression hits, you know you’re not feeling so good. But when you’re in a manic episode, you feel great.

The challenge with feeling great is that you don’t want to let go of it in order to feel better. If you could just get rid of the depression episodes, then your life might feel great. However, with this disorder, both the ups and the downs are part of the problem. And treatment aims to stabilize your mood so that you’re steady on an even keel, not riding huge waves of emotions.

For some, those periods of mania, which might produce great creativity, wonderful insights, brilliant ideas, and feelings of invincibility, can actually be uncomfortable at times. Although it’s the mania that might keep you from wanting to take medication for bipolar, it’s also the mania that produce feelings of irritability. Although it sounds like an excited and elevated mood could be fun, it brings intensity, dangerous choices, risky behavior, and often little awareness of any potential consequences. For instance, a teen who is manic might max out his parent’s credit card on a luxury online store, have unprotected sex with a partner he or she hardly knows, or go gambling and bet his or her entire savings at the casino. Mania might at the surface seem like it’s a version of happiness, but it’s a mood that comes with significant risks. Sure, it might be fun to be in those manic states, but on some level, there are serious consequences.

Meanwhile, on the other side of mania, when your mood begins to shift out of an elevated state, you might swing to the other end of the spectrum to depression. Bipolar disorder (bi meaning two) is characterized by the swing of moods between mania and depression, moving between both poles. An episode of depression can come with the following symptoms:

  • 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 in memory
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Oversleeping
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Suicidal ideation.

Both the mania, as mentioned earlier, and the depression can be dangerous. A manic episode can be dangerous because you might put yourself in risky situations. At the same time, an episode of depression can be risky because, if it’s severe enough, you might have thoughts of suicide and perhaps even act on it. The swing between both these states can be incredibly uncomfortable and unsafe.

For these reasons, it’s important that teens get treatment of this disorder as soon as possible. The cycles between mania and depression can continue to worsen if not treated. Typically, treatment of Bipolar Disorder includes minimizing mood swings through the use of medication and therapy. Typical forms of treatment might include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, life skills training, psycho-education, and hospitalization, if necessary. When medication is combined with therapy, there is a greater chance of arriving at and maintaining mental health.

If you’re a teen experiencing the cycles of Bipolar Disorder and you’re not following your treatment plan or if you haven’t told an adult about your experience, talk to a parent, teacher, or school counselor about what’s going on. It can in fact save your life.