Sad. Angry. Irritable. We all have our moods…especially teenagers. In 1958, Freud even referred to adolescence as a period of extreme instability or “normal psychosis.” When I was in medical school, we first studied what was normal adolescent development so that we could recognize what was abnormal.
Adolescent development involves achieving independence from parents, adopting peer codes and lifestyles, acceptance of body image and establishing sexual, ego, vocational, and moral identities. And while they’re doing all of these developmental tasks, they are also experiencing changes in their hormones and changes in their brains.
So what’s considered par for the course? Certainly, teens experience sad, angry, and irritable moods, just like everyone else. But it’s abnormal when teens experience extreme mood swings, that interfere with sleep, energy level and clear thinking, or when they are in nonstop conflict with their parents.
Abnormal moodiness may actually be a mental health condition called bipolar disorder. As the name implies, bipolar disorder may involve depressive episodes, or a combination of depressive and manic episodes. Besides feeling sad, angry or irritable, symptoms of a depressive episode include:
Symptoms of a manic episode may include:
Not all bipolar disorders are the same. There are several types of bipolar disorder, which are diagnosed based on the length of time a person has suffered from the disorder and the severity of the symptoms. There may be manic and major depressive episodes (Bipolar I disorder); mild to moderate manic (hypomanic) and major depressive episodes (Bipolar II disorder); or hypomanic episodes and depressive symptoms that are less severe than major depression (cyclothymic disorder).
Bipolar disorder may look different in teens than adults.
There is no known cure for bipolar disorder, but there is treatment. Treatment involves medication prescribed by a psychiatrist as well as psychotherapy or “talk therapy.” They go hand-in-hand. Psychotherapy can help teens and their families cope with bipolar disorder and learn strategies to manage moods and behavior. For teens in emotional distress, confidential counseling is available 24/7, toll-free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In the event of an emergency, don’t wait. Call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.