Teen Bipolar Disorder Treatment: Building Structure and Stability

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.


It’s true that Bipolar Disorder treatment 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.


Here are some other typical symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:


An inability to maintain a stable sense of self – This might be difficult to assess for an adolescent because this stage of life is defined as the time in life to discover a sense of self. However, a teen with bipolar tendencies will exhibit signs of self-loathing, self-hatred, and an inability to be who they are among friends.


Dangerous and impulsive behavior – For an adolescent, the impulsivity that is common with Bipolar might be drug use, frequent experiences of unsafe sex, or running away from home.


Self-Harming Behavior – Adolescents with Bipolar might cut themselves as a way to manage anxiety or other overwhelming feelings.


Mood Instability – What characterizes Bipolar Disorder is the frequency of mood swings from depressive symptoms to those of mania.


Chronically feeling empty – This is often experienced by a bipolar teen as loneliness or boredom, and it is compensated by their impulsivity and dangerous behavior, which tends to arouse strong and intense feelings.


An inability to regulate feelings of anger – Fights are common with those who have Bipolar, especially with those close to them. However, anger is not the only emotion that becomes difficult to manage; any strong emotion can be overwhelming and challenging to regulate.


Signs of dissociation with reality – Many teens with Bipolar have experienced trauma and as a result have signs of dissociation. That is, they tend to divorce themselves from their emotional experience and/or an aspect of reality in order to find safety in the experience of life.


Of course, these symptoms are presented here as a tool for growth. With understanding, we can make choices that better our lives. For instance, looking at the above symptoms, you might be able to see how creating structure can facilitate the prevention of the mood swings, the inability to regulate emotions, and the danger that comes with impulsivity. In fact, teen bipolar treatment can sometimes include what’s called Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT).


Building structure as a part of teen bipolar disorder treatment can include establishing a regular sleep schedule, having structured time to work, taking medication at the same time of the day, having an end of the day routine, and practicing good eating habits.


Structure is very important for those with bipolar disorder. Unstructured time can lead to ruminating about what’s not going well, worrying about symptoms, and engaging in activities that are unfulfilling and draining, such as watching television for hours.


Likely your teen already has a schedule that includes the attendance to school. Maintaining that daily routine is essential as well a finding structure for the evenings and weekends as well. When there’s a structure in place to watch a movie, prepare for dinner, finish homework, and then go to bed at 9, your teen might be less tempted by other stimulating activities and attend to the routine that’s been established. Bipolar teens often love the thrill of going from one activity to the next. However, this too can create a feeling of overstimulation and mania, despite a teen’s enjoyment of it.


Although your bipolar adolescent might resist the structure, a routine can help bring stability to moods and create a sense of safety that mania and overstimulation do not provide.  Working with a mental health professional who is familiar with teen bipolar treatment can facilitate establishing a daily structure and overall psychological well being for your teen.