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How to Deal With a Bipolar Teen

by Amber Keefer, studioD

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes behavioral changes and extreme changes in mood. Although still severe, the symptoms in children and teens are different from those experienced by adults. According to the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, diagnosing bipolar disorder in children and teens requires a comprehensive evaluation by a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Establishing a diagnosis also involves observing the teen over time to rule out other disorders with similar symptoms.

Educate yourself and your teen about her illness. Treatment generally involves psychotherapy and taking mood-stabilizing medications to help prevent depression and decrease the frequency of manic episodes.

Work together with your teen to manage his illness. Talk to his doctor and therapist about the treatment choices available. The effectiveness of different treatments depends on the severity of his symptoms.

Track your teen’s symptoms. Keeping a daily record of her moods will help her doctor determine which medications work best, especially if she needs to take more than one kind. Although doctors usually prescribe the lowest dose possible to relieve a patient’s symptoms, depending on a drug’s effectiveness and the side effects, it may be necessary to adjust the amount of a medication. It can often be weeks or months before a medication takes effect.

Observe your teen’s mood and behavior carefully. It’s important to watch for signs that he is severely depressed or suicidal. The National Institute of Mental Health reports individuals whose bipolar disorder starts in childhood or the early teen years experience more frequent mood swings and are at greater risk for attempting suicide.

Help your teen learn to deal with stress. Kristen McClure, a therapist who specializes in treating bipolar disorder in children and adolescents, points out that bipolar teens have a hard time managing stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that provides support and can help your teen cope with her mood changes, as well as learn how to manage stress. Encourage her to join a support group where she can share her feelings with others who understand what she’s going through.

Talk to the school psychologist about educational interventions if your teen has a learning disability. Learning disorders often are overlooked in kids with bipolar disorder increasing the stresses they deal with at school. Neither parents nor educators should automatically assume that a teen’s difficulties in school are related to being bipolar. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that many children and teens with bipolar disorder also have ADHD -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder -- making it difficult for them to concentrate.

Get help for yourself. Dealing with a bipolar teen is stressful. Therapy is often available to families to improve their coping strategies. It also gives family members the opportunity to express their own feelings. Psychoeducation is another counseling option that helps you and your teen learn how to recognize her mood swings and the triggers. Directed at helping an individual understand how his mental illness affects him and his family, psychoeducation can help reduce stress by allowing the individual to feel more in control of his illness. As part of his overall treatment program, a teen may experience less frequent bipolar episodes.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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