Teen Bipolar Disorder: Clear Answers To Complex Questions – Part One

Bipolar Disorder is a complex mental illness. For this reason, gathering information about the illness shouldn’t be difficult. Any parent or caregiver as well as teens should be able to access the information they need, when they need it.


The following questions and their answers are meant to provide simple information using simple language so that you’re not burdened by medical language that’s difficult to understand.


What is Bipolar Disorder?


Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder, a mental illness experienced by teens, adults, and even children. It’s considered to be a mood disorder because someone with this diagnosis experiences disturbances in mood, ranging from the highest of highs (mania) to the lowest of lows (depression). You might also know this disorder as “manic depressive”, which is an older term for the same diagnosis.


How is Bipolar Disorder different in teens than in adults?


It’s true that Bipolar Disorder is difficult for anyone at any age, but its challenges become more acute for teenagers. One example is that adolescents will swing from high to low more quickly than adults. With the developmental changes that they are also undergoing, the changes in mood can become more intense. A teenager might be feeling immensely morose and depressed with suicidal thoughts and then swing to an experience of increased energy, an inflated sense of self (grandiosity), and impulsivity.


What causes Bipolar Disorder?


Several factors can contribute to Bipolar Disorder including:


Genes: This illness tends to run in the family. Children with a parent or sibling with Bipolar Disorder are more likely to get the illness than other children or teens.


Abnormal Brain Structure: This also seems to play a role in whether a child or teen develops Bipolar Disorder.


Anxiety Disorders: Children and teens who already have an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop Bipolar Disorder.


What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?


Euphoria, elation, racing thoughts, irritability, and substance use are common symptoms of mania. 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. It’s not surprising to know that approximately 40% of teens with Bipolar Disorder also have a substance abuse disorder. Some teenagers will also engage in other forms of self-harm, such as cutting or risky behavior as a way to take away their emotional pain and accelerate the highs.


When feeling low or depressed, the symptoms of depression to look for are decreased energy, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, and suicidal thoughts. It is the swing between manic and depressed moods that points to the possibility of Bipolar Disorder. However, if any of these symptoms appear to be present for your child, the next step is to have your teenager assessed.


How does Bipolar Disorder affect teens?


It’s typical for teens who have Bipolar Disorder to have other co-existing concerns. For instance, they might experience substance abuse, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorder, and engaging in risky behavior such as suicide attempts or driving fast or over spending. Because of the mania in Bipolar Disorder, teens might behave in ways other teens might not. Part of treating Teen Bipolar Disorder is also treating the tendency to engage in risky behavior.


This is the first of two articles. The remaining article in this series will address teen Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, treatment, and what teens can expect from treatment. Look for Teen Bipolar Disorder: Clear Answers To Complex Questions – Part Two, which is coming soon.