How Can I Tell if My Teen is Bipolar?

bipolar teen
Do you know how to tell if your teen is bipolar? (photo credit:

Mood swings are a part of life when you have a teenager living under your roof because hormonal shifts and changing moods are a normal part of adolescence.  But this leaves many parents wondering how they can tell if their teenager’s moodiness is normal or if it is a sign that they are struggling with something beyond the normal ups and downs of being a teen.  The good news is that when it comes to bipolar disorder there are some specific things that parents can watch for that help delineate normal moodiness from mental illness.

1.      Mood Swings that are Extreme

If there is one characteristic of bipolar disorder that is the most common and the easiest to spot it is the extreme nature of the person’s mood swings.  People with this disorder experience periods of manic behavior that can include intense happiness or hyper-productivity and periods of devastating depression.  These moods can shift suddenly and unlike normal teenage moodiness may not seem to correlate to the current situation.

2.       Stepping Away from Normal Life

People with bipolar disorder may retreat from their lives and their normal activities.  This retreat can look like quitting a favorite sport or giving up a long cherished hobby.  The mood swings can also be so disruptive that it is difficult to continue to participate in things in the same way they did before.  Simple things like going to school or hanging out with friends can become unmanageable.

3.       Sleeping Less or Sleeping Too Much

A significant shift in sleep pattern can be another sign of bipolar disorder.  Some people with bipolar disorder, especially if they are experiencing a manic episode, may feel like they no longer need to sleep at all.  These people will be able to function almost as if they have been sleeping even if they haven’t slept at all.   Other people, including those facing the depressive side of the disorder may feel like they need to sleep all the time, no matter how much sleep they get.

4.       Taking More Risks

Teenagers, as a rule, tend to have fewer inhibitions and be more willing to take risks than younger children or older adults.  But people with bipolar disorder can take risky behavior to the extreme.  Teenagers with the disorder may participate in very risky activities that are well beyond the normal “acting out” seen in other teens.  They may abuse alcohol or drugs, drive recklessly, or act promiscuously.

5.       Talk of Suicide

Bipolar teenagers, especially when dealing with a depressive episode, may experience thoughts of suicide and talk about suicide as the feelings of hopelessness inherent to that kind of depression overwhelm them.

If your teenager is exhibiting any of these signs, especially if they are exhibiting more than one or two, it may be time to consult a mental health provider to get them assessed and diagnosed.  Bipolar disorder can be treated and those with the condition can live healthy lives once they get a diagnosis and treatment.



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