Bipolar disorder, or “manic depression” as it has sometimes been referred to, was thought to pre-dominantly affect only adults. However, recent evidence has shown that bipolar disorder is common among teens and can even manifest in younger children. While controversial, the cases of teen and child bipolar disorder is growing at an incredible rate leading many to believe that we have only begun making excuses for common childhood behaviors rather than actually have an increase in the disorder.
Adding even more fuel to the argument between doctors, specialists, child psychologists, and even parents Dr. Martin Rosenzweig of the Pennsylvania Hospital has this to say, “It is particularly difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder in teens because of the normal mood swings associated with adolescence and the onset of puberty. It can be hard to differentiate bipolar disorder from the normal turmoil of adolescence. Alcohol and drug abuse can also mimic or mask the behavior.” It is statements such as this that has thousands of parents reluctant to accept their child’s bipolar disorder causing even more problems with those who have accurate diagnoses.
In addition, other teenage behavior problems like ADHD or Conduct Disorders can co-occur with bipolar disorder close to impossible at times. Dr. Rosenzweig suggests a complete medical history is one of the most important diagnostic tools. It has yet to be determined if there is an exact genetic basis for bipolar disorder, but it is known to run in families. This has lead many scientists to believe that there must be some genetic component to bipolar disorder. The greatest problem today is finding that connection which could also help to generate a plan for a cure, if not a way to completely prevent bipolar.
It is important that a parent understands that unlike normal teenage mood changes, bipolar disorder significantly impairs functioning in school, with peers, and at home with family. While it may be difficult to diagnose in teens, bipolar disorder is a recognized mental illness, and as such has been treated successfully. Often with the right combination of anti-depressive and mood stabilizing medications, along with counseling and therapy a teenager with bipolar disorder can go on to live a happy, healthy productive life.