Teenagers are moody. With the increased awareness of mental health issues, a parent might wonder if their child’s behavior is more than just typical teenage moodiness. They may have a valid reason to be concerned. Extreme fluctuations in mood are one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Here is some information on how to tell if your child is possibly bipolar, and when to seek professional help.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a medical diagnosis. It’s a condition of the brain that results in extreme changes in mood, activity, and energy levels. The disorder has also been called manic-depression.
Bipolar disorder only affects 2-3% of the population, that’s over five million people who struggle with what can be a debilitating disease. It’s most often diagnosed in older teenagers and adults in their early twenties.
While it can occur in younger children, Dr. Amy Ricke with Your Doctors Online tells Parentology “Treatment of bipolar disorder in children under 12 requires careful diagnosis and treatment. True bipolar disorder in children is exceedingly rare. Bipolar disorder is not mood symptoms that fluctuate hour-to-hour or day-to-day. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme highs and lows, rather than the normal temporary moodiness of teenage years.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are four types of bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar I – characterized by episodes of manic behavior lasting for at least one week, or by symptoms that require immediate hospital care. Individuals will also have bouts of depression that generally last two weeks or longer. It’s also possible for depression and manic symptoms to happen at the same time.
- Bipolar II – when there’s a pattern of periods of depression and hypomanic behavior. However, the manic behavior is not as extreme as what occurs with Bipolar I.
- Cyclothymia – Multiple periods of hypomanic behavior and depression that last for one year in children and adolescents (Two years minimum in adults). The symptoms are not as severe as what’s experienced with Bipolar I and II.
- Other – Symptoms of bipolar disorder that don’t match the above categories.
Ricke says, “To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must experience a manic episode or hypomanic episode.”
Manic episodes are characterized by a person talking quickly, and changing topics rapidly, difficulty focusing, inability to sleep, having a short temper and engaging in high-risk behaviors. Depressive episodes are marked by extremely low energy and extreme tiredness, inability to concentrate, inability to make decisions, feelings of sadness and worthlessness. A person may contemplate suicide during periods of depression.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
There is a genetic component of bipolar disorder. Minor but measurable differences in brain size and activity have been detected. It’s believed traumatic events can trigger the disease.
Ricke says, “Often moody children are diagnosed with bipolar disorder when it is really a syndrome characterized by more chronic irritability and mood swings known as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder or DMDD. Clarity of diagnosis is crucial because treatment differs significantly.”
Treatment for this life-long disorder is targeted at symptom management. This is accomplished through medications such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, antidepressant-antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs. Counseling can also play an important role in managing the disease. There may be times when hospitalization is necessary.
Parents worried their child may be suffering from bipolar disorder should contact their child’s health care provider for a thorough evaluation.
Deborah Zicht, LCSW-R, Senior Director of Transition Age Youth Services at The Jewish Board tells Parentology, “Because bipolar disorder symptoms can also mimic other disorders like ADHD and substance abuse problems, it is imperative that a child or teen be screened by a mental health professional to get a clearer diagnosis and make recommendations to the parent and child/teen.”