Is My Teenager Bipolar?

Teenage girl inspecting herself in the mirror.

The same excitable, invincible teen that rambled on for hours from one subject to the next now wants to be left alone and picks over their food.

Their nerves seem to be more on edge and they freak out over the smallest things. Other days, your teen just stares out the window with no desire to go outside.

What’s going on?

Is your teen bipolar?

I’m very passionate about this subject because I have a teen who’s bipolar and it really test your mettle, believe me.

The following information is meant to help you look for signs to know what to do and to get the appropriate treatment your teen needs if they’re diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that usually affects the person for life. Someone suffering with bipolar disorder will experience an “emotional seesaw”, from extremely happy to extremely sad episodes or even mixed episodes.

These mood swings can affect a teen’s sleep habits, thought patterns and energy levels. A number of people will develop bipolar disorder at age 25, but the mental illness can surface in children and in teens.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Your teen’s personality could make it difficult to spot their mood episodes at first.

They may be naturally outgoing or naturally reserved, and you might assume that they’re just having a “teen moment”. But bipolar disorder behavior is different.

Your teen’s episode symptoms can last for the most part of a day, each day, and can go on for up to two weeks or longer:

Manic Symptoms

  • Acts sillier than normal, has racing thoughts
  • Very short temper
  • Has delusions of their abilities (e.g., he or she has special powers, is a super hero)
  • Fails to stay focused
  • Has trouble sleeping but doesn’t feel tired
  • Talks and fantasizes about sex more
  • Engages in unprotected, promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Spends a lot of money
  • Talks loud and fast and moves on from one subject to another
  • Highly sensitive to criticism
  • Heightened taste, smell, touch, and sight
  • Eats a lot
  • Has anxiety or is agitated easily

Depression Symptoms

  • Sleeps a lot
  • Has low energy and neglects hygiene
  • Feels guilt, shame, hopelessness, doom
  • Eats less than usual
  • Obsesses over death and suicide
  • Has mysterious cramps, aches and pains
  • Stays in their room a lot, keeps their room dark
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It’s in the Genes

If you or your spouse or a sibling has bipolar disorder, your teen’s chances of developing bipolar disorder is much greater (four to six times potential) than a teen who has no known history of bipolar disorder in their family.

But genetic makeup isn’t the sole reason why a teen gets this mental illness. What doctors do know is that hormone imbalances and traumatic events can trigger or cause bipolar disorder:

  • Ongoing stress
  • Abuse
  • Loss of someone your teen was close to

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are several types of bipolar disorder which need to be treated in very different ways:

Bipolar I- Extreme manic or mixed episodes that affects your teen for at least a week. The symptoms are so unusual and so severe that they require immediate hospitalization.

Bipolar II- pattern of low moods that shift with mild manic episodes without your teen ever experiencing hypermania or mixed episodes.

Bipolar-NOS-Your teen shows some unusual behavior and symptoms but these signs are too few and far between to be classified as Bipolar I or Bipolar II.

Cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia- is a mild form of bipolar disorder where episodes of mild manic episodes and mild depression are experienced back and forth for at least a year. These symptoms fall below the criteria for the diagnosis of classic bipolar disorder.

Dangers of Bipolar Disorder

Perhaps you see the B-word as a stigma that would be best handled in private. Bipolar disorder is a very complex disease that can grow worse the longer it’s left untreated and impairs judgment.

Your bipolar teen’s behavior could put them, your family and others in danger:

  • Wandering the streets for hours alone
  • Engaging in risky sexual behavior
  • Drinking excess alcohol and taking drugs
  • Driving at high speeds
  • Physically attacking you, your spouse or siblings when angry
  • Threatening to commit suicide or attempting suicide

How Do I Get My Teen Diagnosed for Bipolar Disorder?

A doctor will need to examine your teen carefully to rule out other issues that could cause bipolar-like behavior, like food sensitivities. He or she will ask about your teen’s moods and sleep patterns and family medical history to arrive at the correct diagnosis.

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Teens sometimes respond differently to psychiatric drugs than adults. And each bipolar patient responds differently to the same drug.

A conventional medication to treat bipolar disorder is Lithium. But some trial and error will have to be done by your doctor to see what drug(s)(e.g., risperidone, aripiprazole) and what dosage works best for your child.

Monitor and report any side effects your teen may experience while taking their meds.


Psychotherapy or talk therapy can eventually help your bipolar teen learn and manage their triggers, carry out normal daily routines and help your child interact with their family, classmates, workmates, and the general public better.

Change Happens

The symptoms associated with bipolar disorder could quickly change and is based on your teen’s gender. Your teen may have to take their current medication at a lower or higher dosage, combine medications or switch their medication altogether.

The best attributes you need in order to deal with your teen’s mental illness is patience, empathy, consistency, and adaptability.

Final Thoughts…

There’s no cure for bipolar disorder. However, treatment for this illness is getting better, and it can be successfully managed.

Keep a journal of your teen’s moods, behavior and sleep patterns.

This information will help you know if their current medication is working or if you’ll need to switch to another one.

It’s very stressful taking care of a teen with bipolar disorder, so you’ll need help keeping your life in balance by joining a support group and taking advantage of any other resources available to you.

The following tips can help you to cope with your teen’s mental illness:

  • Talk to your family doctor about your teen’s behavior.
  • Explain your situation to your supervisor.
  • Talk to your teen about the importance of sticking with their treatment.
  • Seek alternative options (fish oil, TMS therapy and L-Methionine)to manage your teen’s symptoms.
  • Look beyond your teen’s bipolar behavior.
  • Take care of yourself to lower stress levels.
  • Seek the support of a trusted family member or friend.
  • Don’t stop giving your teen their medicine without a doctor’s supervision.

I welcome any comments you have about bipolar disorder in teens below.