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Bipolar Depression in Teens: How Parents Can Help

The idea of bipolar depression in teens often surprises people because bipolar disorder is frequently thought of as a mental disorder of adulthood. However, adolescents (and even children) can and do develop bipolar disorder, which includes bipolar depression.

The illness in adolescents can differ slightly from the illness in adults. Symptoms of bipolar depression in teens can be more intense and occur more frequently than adult symptoms; additionally, teenagers sometimes experience psychotic symptoms during both depressive and manic episodes, whereas adults who experience delusions and hallucinations do so in mania. These differences are due, at least partially, to the nature of adolescence.

Remembering teens’ developmental stages is helpful for parents, family members, and the adolescents themselves.  The adolescent brain is different from an adult’s brain. The brain continues to develop and change through the teen years. Further, their inner world is a sea of raging hormones, wreaking havoc on their emotions. The teen years also involve pulling away from parents and family to find a place among peers as well as to build independence. If bipolar depression sets in during the ups and downs and stress of growing up, the consequences can be crushing.

True to adolescence, teenagers sometimes resist help, especially from parents, even though bipolar depression in teens is treatable. Parents beware, too, that your son or daughter’s symptoms will likely be worse at home than when they’re out in the world. As exasperating as this can be, it’s a compliment. Home is a safe haven where they know they’re loved. They can stop hiding their symptoms when they’re home.

Let’s look at what bipolar depression is like for teens and how parents and family members can help.

Bipolar Depression in Teens: Symptoms

It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between ordinary teen moodiness and what’s more serious, like bipolar depression. Further complicating the picture is the fact that sometimes depression in teens manifests more as irritability than sadness. If your teen is suddenly more irritable than usual, and is short-tempered for two weeks or longer, they might have bipolar depression. These are some other signs to watch for:

  • Frequent sadness and/or irritability
  • Becoming emotional quickly, including frequent crying
  • Sullenness
  • Problems with decision-making and concentration
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Lethargy, lack of motivation
  • Quitting activities once enjoyed
  • Drop in grades
  • Feeling worthless
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Preoccupation with death, talk of suicide or wanting to go away and stop being a burden

Bipolar depression in teens can make them feel removed from life. This, of course, perpetuates the depression. It’s possible to disrupt that vicious circle. Here are some ways to help your teen recover.

How Parents Can Help a Teen with Bipolar Depression

Your teen can break free from bipolar depression, and you can help with the process. Family involvement is one of the treatments, along with medication and individual therapy, that has been shown to improve bipolar depression. Your chances of success will likely be higher when you remember the unique developmental stage of adolescence mentioned above.

While doing so might be challenging because of bipolar depression symptoms, sit with your teen and create a plan. Establish some ground rules together before jumping into discussions about treating and managing depression. Perhaps you might agree that you won’t treat your teen like a child or try to control them, and they promise not to shut you out or argue. Create ground rules that are important to you, your teen, and the rest of the family.

Other approaches that many families with a teen struggling with bipolar depression have found helpful include:

  • Keeping stress levels low at home (de-clutter, solve problems respectfully, keep noise levels down, etc.)
  • Creating a routine to increase stability and reduce feelings of unpredictability and chaos
  • Helping your teen track symptoms because when they can spot patterns and triggers, they can start to use coping skills right away to keep bipolar depression to a minimum
  • Developing coping skills
  • Maintaining open communication by giving everyone a chance to be heard and to listen nonjudgmentally
  • Helping your teen identify and describe feelings
  • Talking with your teen to help them separate themselves from the illness
  • Choosing your battles and concentrating on issues that are important to the family while letting other, less important, concepts go
  • Establishing a healthy lifestyle for the whole family: exercise, nutrition, hobbies, and fun

Bipolar depression in teens can be challenging for everyone. With support, your teen has an excellent chance of dealing with it effectively and once again embracing life.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, June 12). Bipolar Depression in Teens: How Parents Can Help, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-depression/bipolar-depression-in-teens-how-parents-can-help

Last Updated: June 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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