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Teens and Bipolar Disorder

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Scientists don't know the exact cause of bipolar disorder. Still, many experts believe that of all psychiatric disorders, bipolar is the most closely linked to genetics. For example, if your parent has bipolar disorder, you are about nine times more likely to get the condition than other teens.

Biochemical and environmental factors play a role in bipolar disorder, too. In fact, researchers think that imbalances in neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that regulate moods) increase the chance of bipolar disorder.

What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Symptoms of bipolar disorder include mania (highs), hypomania (mild highs), and depression (lows). Feeling manic or hypomanic is not the same as having super-energy and being very outgoing or highly productive one weekend. Likewise, depression is not a temporary bad mood that happens when you don't have a date for the school dance.

The mood episodes with bipolar disorder are intense, and noticeable by friends and family. A teen with mania might be hyper-excited, silly, and have laughing fits in class that are inappropriate. In some teens, mania's grandiosity may cause problems with defiance, as the teen refuses to comply with any authority at home or at school.

Symptoms of mania include:

  • Racing speech and thoughts.
  • Increased energy.
  • Decreased need for sleep.
  • Elevated mood and exaggerated optimism.
  • Increased physical and mental activity.
  • Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior, and impatience.
  • Hypersexuality, increased sexual thoughts, feeling or behaviors; use of sexual language.
  • Reckless behavior, like excessive spending, making rash decisions, and erratic driving.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Inflated sense of self-importance.

Symptoms of hypomania include:

  • Exuberant and elated mood.
  • Increased confidence.
  • Extremely focused on projects at work or at home.
  • Increased creativity and productivity.
  • Decreased need for sleep.
  • Increased energy and libido.
  • Risk-taking behaviors.
  • Reckless behaviors.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Prolonged sad or irritable mood.
  • Loss of energy or fatigue.
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
  • Sleeping too much, inability to sleep, or difficulty falling asleep.
  • Drop in grades and inability to concentrate.
  • Inability to experience pleasure.
  • Loss of appetite or overeating.
  • Anger, worry, and anxiety.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

In adults, bipolar mood swings can last for weeks to months. Teens may experience much shorter mood swings, going from mania or hypomania to depression in a few short hours or days.

Between episodes, a person with bipolar disorder usually returns to normal (or near-normal) functioning. For some people, though, there is little or no "break period" between their cycles.

Some people with bipolar disorder turn to alcohol and drugs because they feel temporarily better when they're high. But substance abuse can make the symptoms of bipolar disorder worse. It also makes the condition harder for doctors to diagnose and treat.

WebMD Medical Reference

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