Are there times when your adolescent’s behavior or mood is excitable and silly, then plummets into sadness and isolation? Do you worry that his or her mood swings from overly excited to very depressed? Is your child or adolescent having social or academic problems because of these mood swings?
Changes in mood are a normal part of adolescent development. The body is going through biological changes due to hormones, and moods can vacillate from irritability to sadness to excitability, even in the same day. But when radical mood fluctuations cause social or academic issues, there may be something else going on.
Bipolar is a brain issue that causes extreme changes in a person’s mood and behavior. Moods can swing from “mania,” or extreme highs, to very low lows; these are called “manic episodes” and “depressive episodes,” respectively. There are also “mixed episodes,” a combination of manic and depressive symptoms. Many adolescents experience mixed episodes, more so than adults.
People are typically diagnosed as bipolar in their late teens or early twenties. However, children and adolescents experiencing these symptoms are diagnosed with “early-onset bipolar” and can be diagnosed as young as 6 years old. Symptoms can look different in children and adolescents than they do in adults.
Adolescents experiencing a manic episode may:
- Act silly or hyper
- Feel irritable or aggressive
- Experience inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- Have increased energy
- Need less sleep
- Talk fast or change topics quickly
- Take more risks (drive recklessly, disobey rules at home or school, use drugs or alcohol, etc.)
- Have trouble concentrating
- Think or talk more about sex
Adolescents experiencing a depressive episode may:
- Cry more and have persistent sadness
- Sleep significantly more or less
- Have less energy or slowed movements
- Eat significantly more or less (as noted by changes in weight)
- Feel worthless or hopeless
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Isolate themselves from friends and family
- Have somatic complaints (stomachache, headache, etc.)
- Think or talk more about death or suicide
It can be very difficult for mental health professionals to distinguish between bipolar and other adolescent issues, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), depression, anxiety, or drug use. It is important to observe the adolescent’s behavior over a period of time before making this diagnosis in order to rule out other possible issues.
There are no blood tests or brain scans that can help diagnose bipolar. A psychiatrist, mental health counselor, or psychologist will ask questions about the child or adolescent’s sleep, behavior, and mood. Because mental health conditions can run in families, professionals might also ask parents abouta family history of bipolar, drug use, or depression.
Getting treatment for your child or adolescent is of the utmost importance, especially when suicidal thoughts are present. Medication can help stabilize moods, and several medications have been approved for adolescents. A psychiatrist can help determine which medication would be most effective. Therapy can help your adolescent understand bipolar and learn how to manage its ups and downs. Therapy can also help parents and other family members learn about the issue and how to better help the adolescent.
If you notice several of the above symptoms in your child or adolescent, seek professional help. Being diagnosed with bipolar doesn’t mean the end of the world for the adolescent or for the parents. Many people diagnosed with bipolar live successful, stable lives. Working with knowledgeable professionals can lead to a proper diagnosis and effective treatments.
- “Bipolar disorder in children and teens. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder-in-children-and-teens-easy-to-read/index.shtml
- Bipolar disorder in children and teens. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Bipolar_Disorder_In_Children_And_Teens_38.aspx
- Bipolar disorder or ADHD? (2013). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/bipolar_disorder_or_adhd
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