Bipolar Adolescent: Facts and Help

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The bipolar adolescent has not been as well researched or received as much attention as that for the bipolar child. This may be because people lump teens and children and adults together. This is not helpful as each developmental stage presents different manifestations of the illness.  This page will first discuss issues that are helpful for parents of teenagers who struggle with mood disorders. It also links to pages on children and adults with bipolar disorder.


Bipolar Adolescents Need Extra Help from Mom and Dad

Treatment for the bipolar teenagers must balance the need for the child to have individuality and confidentiality with the need to involve the family. Many families who are well intentioned think teens require their own space and time with a therapist. Treating a bipolar adolescent without family involvement is usually unsuccessful. In therapy these bipolar teenagers tell me their parents don’t understand how much help they need. Many of them feel their parents and others expect them to be an adult and they are not ready to handle any of these responsibilities. They feel they need more help from their parents then the normal teen, and they often want them to participate in therapy.

Bipolar Adolescents Need Help Managing Stress

The bipolar teenager, even when stable, has a very hard time managing stress. They are vulnerable to stressful situations but struggle with self awareness about this. They need assistance recognizing the physical signs of stress in their bodies, coping with that stress, and reaching out to others to communicate that stress. Therapy can focus on assisting them in acquiring these skills.

Bipolar Adolescents Need Assistance with Goal Setting

Bipolar teenagers often “bite off more than they can chew". They seem to have no concept of what they can handle and what they can't. In response to realizing they are overwhelmed by a task, they often shut down completely. Part of this may be because when they are experiencing mania they think they can handle more than they actually can. Therapy teaches kids to take small steps towards their goals, thus allowing them to experience success.

Bipolar Adolescents Want Social Acceptance, but don’t know how to Choose Good Friends

The bipolar adolescent struggles with acceptance of peers and with understanding the opposite sex. Their judgment is often impaired. They may choose friends who are not healthy for them or put themselves in situations with peers where they are treated badly. Adolescent bipolar disorder treatment must focus on these issues. These teems need help realizing their value as a person (self esteem), setting boundaries for themselves, and setting standards for how they will allow themselves to be treated.

Bipolar Teens Lack Understanding about their Illness

Despite repeated education about signs of mania and depression, bipolar teenagers often seem unaware of when they are experiencing symptoms of mood states which may influence them. They need psycho education to assist them in understanding the signs and symptoms of each mood state, and how that may make them particularly vulnerable.

Bipolar teenagers Don’t Understand the Importance of Health, Sleep and Nutrition

Bipolar teenagers must learn the connection between sleeping, eating healthily, and their mood stability. In therapy I will often suggest they log their sleep so they can see directly how the lack of sleep impacts their ability to handle stress. A sleep log is also helps them to see when they are experiencing mania (little need for sleep high energy) or depression.

Family Issues

Families of bipolar teenagers often expect too much from them. Adolescent bipolar disorder disrupts emotional regulation, coping skills, and problem solving skills. Don’t compare your bipolar adolescent to other adolescents. Many of the bipolar teenagers I work with are incredibly artistic and talented and feel emotions at a depth that most of us will never understand. Click here to learn more about bipolar creativity.

These teens may seem sophisticated because of these special traits, but still need a tremendous amount of help with their day to day existence. They require patience and tolerance and from their family. They need constant attention care and monitoring.

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More Tips for Parents for Managing the Bipolar Adolescent

Adolescence carries with it many challenges that make it an especially difficult developmental period. The bipolar adolescent has a compromised ability to face all of these stresses and challenges.

Adolescence is a time when kids:

  • Assert their individuality
  • Separate from their parents
  • Look to their peers for more guidance than their family
  • Struggle for social acceptance

Often, the bipolar adolescent is not ready for these challenges. Bipolar disorder in teens may cause them to be dependent on their family for basic daily functioning, and although they want to separate, that dependence can make it difficult.

What can you do as a parent to better help your Bipolar Adolescent?

Get your own Therapy and Support

As the parent of a bipolar adolescent you need to have an incredible amount of patience. A bipolar teen needs parents who are skilled at:

  • Modeling good problem solving skills
  • Solving conflict
  • Utilizing assertiveness to express thoughts and feelings

Parents need to learn these skills and therapy can help with that. Parents may need to process their feelings of grief and anger over the illness their child has. Frequently parents have a diagnosis of depression or anxiety as well, often from the stress of raising a bipolar teen.

Don't Parent your Child like a " Normal" Child

Insisting on parenting a bipolar adolescent the way you would any other teenager is ineffective and can be harmful for your child. Normal parenting techniques just don't work with kids who are bipolar.

Give up on the Need to be in Control

Bipolar disorder in teens causes an every day struggle for control. Bipolar teens struggle with regulating sleep , appetite and moods. Work to give them a sense of control by teaching, accepting and creating safety and stability. Insisting a bipolar teenager does what you want when you want it doesn’t work and will drive you crazy.

Don't Expect Your Child to be More Mature Than They Are

It is important to understand that there are normal developmental stages that children pass through as they grow up. Each stage is marked by the acquisition of new skills (hopefully) and a greater maturity level. If your child is bipolar it may be that their illness has disrupted this process of normal development. If your child is 15, but has been unstable in their illness for three years, they will not have the skills of a normal 15 year old. It may take them three years to catch up. Be reasonable about your expectations.

Ration out your Energy

Bipolar disorder in teens is a serious illness. It is true that your child can be fine and go on to live a productive and stable life, if they get the right help and stay on the right path. Don't waste your time worrying and arguing with your child about unimportant things.

You want your child to be a productive adult who can have a job, friends a family and happiness. All teenagers want to express themselves. If your bipolar teenager gets a nose ring or a tattoo, it's not the end of the world. If they attempt suicide, it's much more serious.

Create Opportunities for you Child to Express Him or Herself

A bipolar teen often has an incredible amount of feelings and thoughts that they are struggling to make sense of. Create opportunities for them to express themselves, especially if they are writers or artists. Build on any strengths or interests they have, the more successes they have the more likely they are to be functional adults.

Don't Hold Grudges

If you and your bipolar teen get into an argument, do not give them the silent treatment afterwards. They need help learning how to problem-solve and resolve conflict. When things are calm, discuss what happened and how you can move on from a serious incident

Take any Signs of Depression or Suicidal Comments Seriously

Bipolar disorder in teens puts them at risk for suicide. This constantly needs to be monitored. Parents must communicate with their child's therapist and psychiatrist about any signs of depression or concerns they have about their child.

Be Serious about Substance Abuse

Teen bipolar disorder is a serious risk factor for drug use. Many adults with bipolar disorder have substance abuse problems.

Teach your Child about their Feelings

During healthy and normal development kids learn emotional regulation. They learn how to identify and tolerate painful emotions and they learn how to cope with them. Bipolar teens are often overwhelmed by the intensity of their emotions and are at a complete disadvantage to handle them. Parents must create a dialog with their child about what is happening with their emotions. Depending on the severity, duration and age of onset, a 15 year old may need to be treated like a three-year-old. A parent needs to teach them about what they are feeling because they don't know. Parents often must read cues about how their child is feeling until they can do it themselves. Bipolar teens may not have the infrastructure necessary to regulate their emotions and so parents must create it for them with a lot of patience and repetition.



Everything you ever wanted to learn about bipolar disorder across all the different ages by clicking the links below.

Leave bipolar adolescent to learn about bipolar disorder in children

Homeschooling my bipolar child

Toddlers

Bipolar and school

Bipolar Disorder and creativity

Bipolar and ADHD

Bipolar and meds

More about bipolar and meds

Parents with  bipolar disorder

More about parents and bipolar disorder

Support groups

Symptoms

Treatments

Misdiagnosis of bipolar

 How to handle anger

 Learn about Seroquel and anger in children


Visit a checklist on bipolar disorder in children

Visit a page for helpful parenting techniques  for anger in bipolar children

Learn more about parenting techniques that promote emotional regulation

Stress Management techniques

ADHD and parenting

Bipolar disorder and memory

Natural treatments for bipolar disorder

Family members with bipolar disorder

Bipolar and diet

Bipolar disorder and relationships

Bipolar disorder and alcoholism

Lithium

Cognitive behavioral therapy for bipolar




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