Questions and Answers on Teen Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is an illness of the mind that affects an adolescent’s mood. While most people are familiar with depression and its associated experience of low moods, many individual’s don’t understand the complex nature of Bipolar Disorder – and for good reason. It’s a psychological illness that is multifaceted.

How can you tell if someone you know has Bipolar Disorder?

Someone who has this psychological disorder will swing from a low mood (depression) to a very high mood (often called mania or hypomania). Depression is often also called unipolar depression, uni meaning one and polar meaning pole. You could think of moods as being on a continuum, depression, sadness, loneliness, and lack of energy on one pole and mania, high energy, and euphoria on the other pole. In the case of a mentally healthy individual, he or she might experience moods that stay somewhere in the middle of this continuum, dipping a bit into either sadness or joy at times, but not excessively in either direction. However, those with teen Bipolar Disorder will tend to swing from one pole to the other – hence, the name of the illness.

What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Unipolar depression is the experience of staying on one pole of the continuum. A teen with depression might experience these 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.

Bipolar disorder (bi meaning two) is characterized by the swing of moods between mania and depression, moving between both poles. In addition to the symptoms of depression listed above, a teen might also experience

  • 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

Is the experience of mania just a version of being happy?

Mania is actually an uncomfortable experience, which often includes 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.

Is self-injury often an experience for those with Bipolar Disorder?

Self-injury is inflicting direct harm to one’s own body, without the intention of committing suicide. It can include cutting, biting, scratching, burning, and bruising the skin. Self injury is an experience that may or may not accompany Bipolar Disorder. Those who have teen Bipolar Disorder don’t always experience self-injury, and at the same time, there are many Bipolar teens who use self-injury as a means for numbing emotional pain.

The benefit of knowing about Bipolar Disorder is being able to recognize whether you or someone you know might need assistance. If that’s the case, seek out a mental health professional who can assist you with determining whether a disorder is present and provide any necessary treatment.