Bipolar disorder in teens presents in similar ways as it presents in adults. Because of young people’s unique physical, emotional, social and psychological challenges, bipolar disorder in teens can masquerade as extreme examples of normal teenage behavior.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
People who are diagnosed with this disorder show symptoms of both low and high mood – both depression and mania. One helpful way to understand manic and depressive symptoms is to think of depression as slowing everything down. During a depressive phase, people feel tired, sleep more, think more slowly, speak more slowly, and so on. During a manic phase, people experience the opposite – for example, sleeping less and thinking and speaking more quickly. There are different types of bipolar disorder and different levels of severity of each type.
Red Flags of Mania
- Racing thoughts. Your teen may complain that thoughts are coming into his or her head too fast, and for some this provokes anxiety.
- Sleeping fewer hours. One off night may be normal, but watch for a pattern of several nights in row or longer of curtailed sleep.
- Intense impatience or irritability. All teens can be impatient and intense, but bipolar disorder in teens can present with an increase in both intensity and duration of irritability. Snapping at parents is common, but watch for snapping at peers, anger at things that your teen used to tolerate, and irrational impatience.
Red Flags of Depression
- Suicidal thoughts. While many teens get the blues and seem dramatic at times, it is not normal teen behavior to express thoughts of suicide. Bipolar disorder in teens can be life-threatening. Take all suicidal talk seriously and take immediate action to keep your teen safe.
- Excessive sleep. Again, not just one night or one weekend, but a pattern of increased hours of sleep.
- Poor concentration, changes in school work or social connections. Your teen may suddenly express lack of interest in subjects he or she formerly enjoyed, and disinterest in friends. “It’s all too much effort” is what your teen might say if asked why the change.
Bipolar disorder in teens is treatable and many go on to live well, managing their disease just like they might manage a chronic medical condition. Medications and therapy can reduce the impact of the disease and help teens and their families enjoy all the lessons and fun that the teen years offer.