Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness most known for the extreme shifts in mood experienced by those who have the diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is a very common mental illness. It is estimated that approximately 2.5 million adults in the United States are diagnosed with it.
Most commonly, bipolar disorder is diagnosed when a person reaches their early twenties; however, diagnosis can occur during childhood or teen years as well. Although bipolar disorder is prevalent, it, like many other mental illnesses, carries a certain amount of stigma associated with the diagnosis, which can be challenging to manage for many teens. There is no cure for bipolar disorder; however, with proper treatment, it is possible to live with minimal symptoms or impact on daily functioning. To properly understand how treatment options may benefit your teen, it is first helpful to understand the illness itself.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Three primary symptoms can occur with bipolar disorder. They include mania, hypomania, and depression.
Mania occurs when the person goes through what is best described as an emotional high. They feel emotions such as excitement, impulsivity, and euphoria. They also feel excessive amounts of energy, which can impact their ability to sleep or rest. During manic episodes, your teen may also engage in undesirable behavior such as spending sprees, unprotected sexual encounters, or drug use.
Hypomania is generally associated with bipolar II disorder. We will briefly discuss the different bipolar diagnoses below. This state is like that of mania; however, it is not as severe. Unlike manic episodes, hypomania may not result in difficulties at work, school, or social relationships. However, people with hypomania still notice alterations in their mood.
Depressive episodes are the exact opposite of manic episodes. During an episode of depression, you may notice your teen feeling deep sadness, hopelessness, loss of energy, lack of interest in commonly enjoyed activities, or excessive sleep. In some cases, your teen may also express suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm.
Depressive episodes caused by bipolar disorder will last at least two weeks, whereas manic episodes may last for several days or several weeks. It is not uncommon for people to experiences changes in mood several times during the year, although some people experience changes rarely. This is what makes a diagnosis of bipolar disorder so difficult for medical providers. Unlike some other mental health conditions, the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder are quite varied, and their occurrence is also different from person to person.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are three main types of bipolar disorder, including bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia.
This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by the appearance of at least one manic episode. A person with bipolar I may experience hypomanic or major depressive episodes before and after they experience a manic episode. This type of bipolar disorder affects both genders equally.
People with this type of bipolar disorder experience one major depressive episode that lasts at least two weeks. They also have at least one hypomanic episode that lasts a few days. Although thought to be more common in women, this type of bipolar affects both men and women.
Teens with cyclothymia will experience episodes of hypomania and depression. The duration and severity of symptoms is much less than that of bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Most people with cyclothymia only experience a month or two at a time where their moods are stable.
People with cyclothymia have episodes of hypomania and depression. These symptoms are shorter and less severe than the mania and depression caused by bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Most people with this condition only experience a month or two at a time where their moods are stable.
Bipolar Disorder in Teens
For parents of teens, angst and drama are nothing new. The teen years are full of hormone shifts, and life changes that can make even the most well-behaved teem seem upset and emotional (sometimes overly so) on occasion. However, some shifts in teenage mood can also come as a result of undiagnosed bipolar disorder. For teens, the common symptoms of bipolar disorder may look a little different than they do in adults. For example, signs of a manic episode may include the symptoms listed above, but they may also include excessive happiness, acting out, having a very short temper, and difficulty focusing.
As with episodes of mania, depressive episodes may look different for teens as well. Along with the symptoms above, depressive episodes in teens may also include symptoms such as abnormal sleeping and eating patterns, excessive sadness, withdrawal from friends and social activities, and talk of death or suicide.
Bipolar disorder can be passed from family to child, and some research has identified a strong genetic link in people with the disorder. But as noted, family history is not a definitive link. It is also important to note that not everyone with a bipolar diagnosis has a history of the illness in their family.
The Stigma of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a complicated illness that carries with it a lot of all-too-common and stigma perpetuating myths. These myths can have a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of your teen who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Also, these myths or stereotypes can lead people who do not understand bipolar disorder to believe those who have it are either completely erratic, wildly productive, or even have a “split personality.” Some of the more common myths include:
Having bipolar means, you have a split personality–
Contrary to popular opinion, having bipolar disorder does not have an impact on one’s identity. Instead, bipolar disorder affects your teen’s emotional states. They may either experience depressive or manic episodes. While both are a danger to your teens’ well-being, they do not result in a split personality.
Manic episodes make your teen happy and more productive-
There is a widespread belief that manic episodes are a positive side of bipolar disorder. This is generally not the case. When someone is experiencing mania, they are likely to feel as though they do not need sleep and will struggle to focus on any one thing for an extended period. Episodes of mania can affect decision-making abilities and lead to risky behavior. Most of the outcomes of such behavior are not in the least positive or happy.
Bipolar is rare-
Bipolar is less common than depression; however, it is ranked as the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
Bipolar is just mood swings-everyone has them-
Bipolar disorder affects everyone differently. Unlike traditional mood swings, the alterations in mood caused by bipolar disorder cause people to feel changes much more deeply. As a result, the highs are much higher, and the lows are extremely low.
People with bipolar are scary and not like everyone else-
It is stigma like this (and others that are similar), which make being a teen with bipolar disorder very emotionally challenging. Unfortunately, movies and television still depict bipolar disorder as a flaw or something abnormal. The truth is, most people with bipolar disorder do more harm to themselves than to others. Also, most teens (and adults) with bipolar are hard-working students, employees, moms, and dads and are doing the best they can, just like “everyone else.”
People with bipolar disorder cannot be successful-
This is likely one of the most damaging myths of all, especially for teens and young adults who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Those who follow this myth operate under the assumption that people with bipolar disorder are unreliable and incapable of functioning at a high (or even average) level. These perceptions make teens with bipolar disorder believe they can’t achieve their goals, which is wholly false. There are many examples of people who live each day with bipolar disorder and are equally as successful as those around them without a mental health diagnosis.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Teens who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder can, with the appropriate therapy, medication, and support, be equally as successful as their peers. There are several treatments available for your teen, which can help them manage their illness. Examples of these can include medications, counseling, and lifestyle changes.
There are a variety of potential medication-related treatments that have been approved for use in helping to alleviate the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. As with many medications, they should be prescribed by your teen’s medical provider, and your teen should continue under your medical provider’s care while they are taking their prescription. Additionally, medication works better when used in conjunction with one (or a combination of) various forms of therapy described below.
Medications which are often prescribed for use in treating bipolar disorder include:
- Mood stabilizers such as lithium
- Benzodiazepines may also be used as a short-term antianxiety treatment.
Several different types of psychotherapeutic interventions can be used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Some of the most common include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT- Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy. Your teen and their therapist will use their time together to talk about healthy and safe ways to manage the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. They will also discuss thinking patterns and how those patterns can lead to negative thoughts or self-harm. These sessions can also be used to help your teen develop positive coping strategies that can be used to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder in a healthy way.
Psychoeducation-this is a kind of counseling that can be beneficial for all members of the family. It is designed to help your teen, their family, and loved ones to understand bipolar disorder. The premise behind psychoeducation is the more people know about a disorder, the better they can help their loved ones to manage it.
There are some other treatment options your provider may suggest as a way for your teen to manage their bipolar disorder. These may include sleep medications, supplements, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes may include suggestions such as maintaining a routine for eating and sleeping or journaling to help recognize and track the onset of mood swings.
There are also some simple steps you can take right now to help manage your bipolar disorder:
Psychotherapy treatment for bipolar disorder can take place in a variety of settings, including outpatient and inpatient settings. In an outpatient setting, your teen may attend therapy appointments with their provider at a medical office or in a group meeting space. For some teens, this may be the best option, and it may provide suitable results. For other teens, residential treatment at a facility such as Hillcrest may be a better alternative. At Hillcrest, your teen will have access to all of the same treatment options they would be afforded in outpatient treatment; however, they also have 24/7 access to help and care when needed. At Hillcrest, we have an experienced team of medical providers, therapists, nutritionists, and pharmacists who will work together to make sure the treatment plan designed for your teen meets all of their needs to the highest level of care possible. We understand deciding to place your teen in a residential care setting may be one of the most challenging and emotional decisions you will have to make as a parent. We are here and available to help walk you and your family through this challenging process.
Bipolar is a chronic mental illness that does not have a known cure. This means your teen (and your family) will live and cope with the challenges it presents for the rest of their lives. It does not mean, however, that they cannot live a happy and healthy life. Treatment, either outpatient or here at Hillcrest, can help your teen learn to manage their changes in mood and to cope with their symptoms. We will also help your family seek out and access the support systems within your community that will be highly beneficial once your teen leaves treatment at Hillcrest and returns home. This will ensure your teen has access to others in the community to are also living with this disorder and to whom they can turn to when they need someone to talk to outside of a treatment setting.
At Hillcrest, we understand living with bipolar disorder can be a challenge for your teen and your family. We are here to help your family work through these challenges and find the appropriate teen treatment plans so your teen can live a full and healthy life.