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November 2, 2007

Signs of Bipolar Disorder in Teens and Young Adults

Recently, we've covered stories on bipolar disorder in youth. With the rise in the number of teens diagnosed, it's important to know what signs to look for. But as the story which recently appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune points out, knowing the signs may not be enough. The problem is that many parents notice abnormal behavior in their children but chalk it up to an "adolescent or teenage phase" that will pass. And though this may be the case for most teens, for the best possible prognosis, those suffering from mental illness should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. The story gives the examples of two teens who were diagnosed only after one became suicidal and the other was hospitalized because of a psychiatric breakdown. The second teen wished she had been diagnosed sooner, stating, "...parents should really try to get to know their child. Ask how they feel about themsel(ves) and the world. Ask them about their hopes and dreams...Nobody asked me, but if they would have, I'd have told them I wanted to live on the planet Pluto with nobody around me."

"Although some children have vague symptoms at age 10 to 12, the signs of bipolar disorder, severe depression and schizophrenia usually draw attention and peak at 17 to 22, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Mental health experts believe that this unfortunate timing is triggered by changes in the brain. However, it also may be exacerbated by stress."

Some signs to watch out for: (If you notice any of these for extended periods of time, ask your child about them.)

  • "Increased isolation and social withdrawal. Children may lock themselves in their rooms and not spend as much time as they used to with friends and family."
  • "Severe overreaction to a situation, such as sobbing over one bad grade or screaming at someone who took a desired seat."
  • "Extreme indifference and lack of motivation."
  • "Severe anxiety or fearfulness."
  • "Deteriorating grades or job performance. This change will be noticeable, because the majority of children who have mental disorders are very bright and good students."
  • "Sleeping too little or too much."
  • "Excessive drinking or drug use." This is often something that parents notice but don't correlate with mental illness. It's important to stress that though not all children abusing drugs are suffering from mental illness, drug abuse is a risk factor and sometimes the result of suffering from mental illness. As mentioned in the story, drugs are often a method of self-medication for the mentally ill.
  • More Signs and the Full Story: The San Diego Union-Tribune, Knowing warning signs of adolescent mental health problems can lead to an essential early diagnosis and medical care
    To Learn More About Symptoms and Diagnosis

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