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July 6, 2023

Bipolar Disorder in Teens
Author: Kiran Dinakaran

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is an increasingly recognized mental health issue that affects both adults and teenagers. It is marked by extreme mood swings, mania, and periods of mental instability and confusion. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 2.9% of teens will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder in their lifetime. In teenagers, it is often subject to cyclical fluctuations of behavior and can lead to irrational and delinquent acts. Left unchecked, it can inhibit a teenager’s day-to-day functioning and interfere with the development of relationships.


Why do teens develop bipolar disorder?

Currently, the exact causes of bipolar disorder are not fully understood, but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic, neurochemical, and environmental factors. Genetic predisposition plays a significant role, as individuals with a family history of bipolar disorder are more likely to develop the illness. Adolescence is a critical period for the development of bipolar disorder, as hormonal changes and brain development during this time can contribute to the onset of the condition. Stressful life events, such as trauma or significant life changes, can also trigger the onset of bipolar disorder in susceptible individuals.


Symptoms of bipolar disorder


  1. Rapid fluctuations in the mood – bipolar disorder causes teens to experience sudden and drastic shifts in their moods, often switching back and forth between periods of extreme excitement and activity and depressive states.


  1. Impulsive behavior- Teens with bipolar disorder often lose the ability to think through their decisions and may act without considering the consequences. Examples include reckless behavior, buying sprees, reckless driving, and substance abuse.


  1. Insomnia- Teens with bipolar disorder may struggle with sleeping, as they often experience insomnia during manic episodes or extreme fatigue during depressive episodes.


  1. Difficulty concentrating- Unpredictable shifts in mood can make it difficult for teens with bipolar disorder to focus on tasks.


  1. Irritability and aggression- bipolar disorder can lead to irritability and aggressive outbursts, particularly during manic episodes. Teens may also become easily agitated and have trouble communicating effectively.


Impact on School and Daily Life

Bipolar disorder can have significant effects on the school and daily life of teenagers. Unpredictable mood swings and symptom fluctuations can make it challenging for teens to maintain consistency and stability in their lives. At school, teens with BD may experience difficulties with concentration, motivation, outbursts, and memory, leading to a decline in their academic achievements and a strain on relationships with teachers and classmates. Outside of school, relationships with family and friends may be strained due to unpredictable behavior which can make it challenging for others to understand or engage with them. Additionally, bipolar disorder can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to fatigue and further impairments in daily functioning.


Treatment Options

The treatment of bipolar disorder in teens typically involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Medications, such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants, are often prescribed to manage symptoms and stabilize mood swings. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or family-focused therapy (FFT), can help teens understand and cope with their condition, develop strategies to manage stress and improve communication and problem-solving skills. Lifestyle changes, including maintaining a regular sleep schedule, engaging in regular exercise, practicing stress management techniques, and avoiding substance abuse, are all methods used to deal with bipolar disorder.


A comprehensive treatment plan is crucial to effectively manage bipolar disorder in teens. Treatment plans are designed to fit the emotional, social, and academic challenges that the patient faces due to the condition. Family support plays a vital role in the treatment process, as it provides a supportive and stable environment for the teenager. Families can educate themselves about bipolar disorder, learn strategies to help their teen manage symptoms, encourage medication adherence, and create a structured routine. Open communication, empathy, and a collaborative approach between healthcare providers, the teen, and their family are essential for the successful long-term management of bipolar disorder in teens.



In conclusion, bipolar disorder has a significant impact on the lives of teenagers, affecting their school performance, relationships, and overall well-being. However, with a comprehensive treatment plan involving medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes, coupled with the support of family, teens can effectively manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives. It is crucial to raise awareness, foster understanding, and provide the necessary resources to help teenagers with bipolar disorder thrive and overcome the challenges they face.

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