The Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Teenagers


Many teens experience the typical highs and lows of adolescence. There may be signs that their conduct is a little more irregular than usual and that it seems to alternate between great irritation and extreme sadness every few days. If this is the case, they may be displaying signs of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is recognised as a severe mental health condition characterised by extreme fluctuations in mood, energy, and activity levels. It is often first diagnosed in adolescence, making it important to understand the specific bipolar symptoms in teens. These symptoms can be divided into two categories: manic or hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes.

A teen with bipolar disorder may exhibit an elated or irritable mood, increased energy and activity levels, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, and impulsive or reckless behaviour during hypomanic or manic episodes. They may also have grandiose ideas, become easily distracted, or have decreased concentration ability. These episodes can last several days to weeks, cause significant impairment in functioning, and impair general mental health.

In contrast, teens with bipolar disorder may exhibit depressive symptoms during a depressive episode, including poor mood, loss of interest in activities, decreased energy and activity levels, changes in eating and sleep habits, trouble focusing, and suicidal thoughts. These episodes might linger for a few days to a few weeks and seriously affect functioning. A disorder known as a ‘mixed episode’ occurs when adolescent patients exhibit both manic and depressed symptoms simultaneously.

Bipolar in Teens Compared to Adults 

Of all psychological illnesses, bipolar is a mood disorder, meaning that it affects mood, feelings, and perception; this is similar to other mental disorders such as anxiety disorders and depression. Current research suggests that teens’ symptoms may differ from adults’. Changes in brain development may account for the different ways teens and adults experience mood swings. Since the young brain is still developing, teens and adults may experience the disorder differently. The majority of the brain’s neurons and essentials for adulthood are found in the grey matter of the brain. This may account for a teen’s propensity for making bad choices and inability to determine whether a situation is safe.

Increased Chance of Risk-Taking Behaviour 

Bipolar disorder in teens could also present major risk factors. The typical signs of a manic episode include exhilaration, elation, racing thoughts, impatience, and drug usage. Decreased energy, insomnia, weariness, agitation, and suicidal thoughts are symptoms of depression that specific brain imbalances can bring on. Both of these circumstances could put teenagers in danger. Extreme mania can result in substance misuse, and severe depression can result in suicide. It is not surprising to learn that adolescents with bipolar disorder are more likely to struggle with substance addiction. When teens feel overly hyper or manic, using cocaine can intensify the high, while using marijuana can help decrease the mood. Other forms of self-harm, such as cutting or dangerous activity, are also used by some youths to relieve their emotional anguish and heighten their highs.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Teens

Manic and depressive episode symptoms are quite dissimilar from one another. While mood changes that occur in youth with bipolar disorder resemble those in adults in many ways, one distinction is that during manic episodes, teens with bipolar disorder frequently exhibit irritability rather than elation.

Teens with bipolar disorder and experiencing a manic episode may display the following symptoms:

  • can easily lose their temper 
  • talk excessively and vertically 
  • inability to focus
  • difficulty sleeping
  • increased feelings of happiness 
  • display risky behaviours 
  • compulsive or extreme behaviour 
  • impulsively complete tasks like spending large sums of money 
  • increased sex drive 
  • quickly jump from task to task

However, when teen with bipolar disorder is experiencing a depressive episode, they may experience symptoms such as:

  • major depression 
  • feelings of worthlessness and guilt 
  • notice more physical aches and pains compared to normal 
  • irregular sleeping patterns 
  • extreme lack of energy 
  • inability to concentrate 
  • feel indecisive
  • lack of interest in activities or socialising with friends
  • irregular eating habits 
  • suicidal thoughts 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should seek help and guidance from a mental health provider or medical professional. 

How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed in a Teenager? 

Often it can be difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder in teens. Teenagers frequently receive the incorrect diagnosis or none because the illness typically manifests throughout their adolescent years, and because they are renowned for being temperamental, their symptoms can often be dismissed. 

Typically, severe depression is how bipolar disorder first manifests. Along with depression, other symptoms include feeling hopeless, confused, and overly exhausted. Teenagers may even consider suicide. However, since a manic episode may not manifest for months or even years, this is frequently classified as depression. Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder and oppositional defiant disorder are also classified, which prevents them from receiving bipolar treatment that would be beneficial. 

Another symptom of bipolar illness is a severe manic episode or a milder one known as “hypomania.” Unexpectedly, a teen could appear to be far too joyful. Additionally, they could act dangerously, speak quickly, and need little sleep. This may be misdiagnosed as ADHD-related hyperactivity or impulsivity.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder requires input from a specialist. In order to characterise the teen’s moods and symptoms over time, doctors rely on family members. Correct diagnosis is crucial since a person’s risk of suicide increases the longer they have symptoms.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder 

It is unclear as to the exact causes of bipolar disorder; however, there are a few factors that could increase the chances of developing bipolar disorder, including: 

  • Stressful life events such as childhood traumas. For example, neglect, sexual, physical or psychological abuse, and the loss of a loved one. 
  • Brain chemistry could also impact the development of bipolar disorder. There is evidence that certain psychiatric drugs that affect neurotransmitters can be used to treat bipolar symptoms. Your brain’s “messenger chemicals” are those. This shows that neurotransmitter malfunctions may be related to bipolar disorder. Although some evidence confirms this, no one is certain of how these neurotransmitters function. Furthermore, it is unclear if issues with these are a contributing factor to or a side effect of bipolar disorder.
  • Family genetics could also have an impact. If there is a strong history of bipolar disorder within the family, there is an increased likelihood of developing the condition. 

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated in Teens?

Once a diagnosis has been made, teenagers can create a treatment strategy with their healthcare professional to help them control their symptoms and enhance their quality of life. Even when a teen is not currently going through a mood episode, it is crucial to stick to the treatment plan. Treatment that is consistent and reliable performs better than intermittent treatment.

Some of the available treatment options for bipolar disorder in teens include: 

  • Talk therapy – Teenagers and their families can manage the symptoms of bipolar illness with the assistance of several forms of talking therapy. Scientifically supported therapies, such as family-focused and cognitive behavioural therapy, can offer support, information, and direction to young people and their families. These treatments provide knowledge and abilities that can aid in managing bipolar disease, such as maintaining routines, strengthening mood management, and enhancing social connections.
  • Medication – Antidepressants, mood stabilisers, and atypical antipsychotics are commonly prescribed to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder in teenagers.
  • Psychoeducation: Teaching teenagers and their families about the condition, its symptoms, and treatment options can empower them to manage the disorder more effectively.
  • Lifestyle changes: Encouraging healthy sleep patterns, exercise, and stress management can help reduce symptoms and improve overall well-being

It’s important to note that treatment plans for bipolar disorder should be tailored to the individual teenager and their specific needs, and it may take time to find the right combination of treatments that works best for them.

Support for Bipolar Disorder at The Wave Clinic 

Our programmes at The Wave are built around seven essential components that support young people in gaining skills across all facets of life. We also integrate comprehensive care, evidence-based therapy alternatives, and medical care to nurture the mind and body. All treatment plans are customised, and we constantly work to support young people as they develop, recover, and acquire new skills in preparation for their exciting futures. 

Young people will gain renewed confidence in their skills, values, and beliefs during their time at The Wave. We aid them in creating motivating future goals and help them make their dreams come true. Contact us today to find out more about the treatment options that we provide. 

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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