Bipolar Disorder, also sometimes referred to as Manic-Depression, is a cyclic condition that causes teens to experience extreme mood swings. As the pendulum swings back and forth between significant depression and elation, teens often struggle with both physical and mental symptoms like exhaustion, anxiety, irritability, and a generally limited ability to cope.

Everyone experiences minor shifts in mood on a daily basis; this is just part of being human. In Bipolar Disorder, however, changes in mood are much more severe and last for a much longer period. Often, the structure of changes occurs in a reliable pattern – perhaps once every few weeks or even every few months. Mood shifts from intense, extreme depression to joyful or irritable mania, with each “cycle” lasting at least a few weeks.

What Does Teen Bipolar Disorder Look Like?

  • Teen Bipolar Disorder often presents with distinct, extended episodes of depression and “mania” (periods of intense excitement, elation, and overactivity). Teens may experience a constellation of other symptoms during “high” periods, including irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, or even delusions.
  • During periods of depression, teens feel extremely sad, despairing, and possibly even suicidal. A pervasive feeling of hopelessness and nihilism, or feelings of intense anger at the world, are also possible. Others feel numb, apathetic, and sluggish instead, struggling with appetite, passive suicidal ideation, or suicide attempts.
  • Manic-Depressive periods may or may not be severe in nature each time they occur. Teens may struggle with suicidal ideation during one period, yet barely be affected the next. Similarly, they may “feel better” when mild mania returns, yet aren’t necessarily healed or safe from harm.
  • Teen Bipolar Disorder doesn’t always look the same in every teen. In fact, it’s really important to address every patient uniquely because their experiences with manic-depression are often unique, too. Symptoms can even occur from both sides of the spectrum at the same time; this is referred to as a “mixed state.”

Signs of Teen Bipolar Disorder

Exhaustion or extreme fatigue

Eating too much or too little

Self-isolation and withdrawal

Losing joy in beloved activities

Inability to sleep or sleeping too much

Intense irritability and anger

Hyperactive behavior and excitement

Extreme restlessness (constantly moving)

The Different Types of Teen Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I Disorder – Bipolar I is by far the most common form of teen Bipolar Disorder. It is characterized by extreme mood shifts with intense periods of mania, depression, or mixed states, and often produces symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization. In Bipolar I, behavior can become so severe that teens become delusional or experience hallucinations.

Bipolar II Disorder – Bipolar II, often referred to as a “milder” form of Bipolar Disorder, can still be extremely disabling. It is characterized by mood shifts that never quite progress into extreme mania. Teens may struggle with chronic, low-level depression and hypomania, but may not require hospitalization or experience breaks with reality.

Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder – Teens who suffer from Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder experience alternating cycles of mania and depression at least four or more times within a 12-month period. In some cases, shifts may even happen every few days.

Mixed Episode Bipolar Disorder – Teens who suffer from Mixed Episode Bipolar Disorder experience symptoms of depression and mania at the same time. They may rapidly cycle from one to the other even within the same day.

Cyclothymia – Cyclothymic mood shifts are slower, and may occur over a period of several years instead of months. Teens who suffer from Cyclothymia often experience “high-functioning” depression with milder symptoms.

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Causes of Teen Bipolar Disorder

Researchers don’t yet conclusively know what causes teen Bipolar Disorder, but science has revealed a few important contributors. The biggest risk factor is genetic; if teens have a family member, such as a parent or grandparent, who has Bipolar Disorder, they are more likely to develop the disorder themselves. Other important risk factors , like hormone imbalance and excessive stress, also play a role.

Hormone imbalance – Hormones play an intricate role in mood and mood shifts over time. Too few or too many hormones in the body, as with thyroid or adrenal gland dysfunction, can cause brain chemicals to shift in a way that causes Bipolar Disorder to develop.

Excessive stress – Extreme stress, traumatic events, abuse, and loss can sometimes create the perfect conditions for Bipolar Disorder to occur. This is more common for older teens who may not have obviously developed symptoms during adolescence.


of all parents of Bipolar teens have it themselves


of teens diagnosed with Depression don’t get the right help.


of all teens with Depression actually have Bipolar Disorder

How Can I Help My Teen with Bipolar Disorder?

Learn to distinguish episode shifts – When you can’t predict mood swings, living with your Bipolar teen can feel chaotic and confusing. Mapping out shifts and identifying a semi-reliable pattern can help you support them. Remember, they are fighting as hard as they can; their behaviors and moods aren’t malicious.

Teens with Bipolar Disorder often struggle with intense emotions and feelings, and may be unable to effectively control their behavior. By being able to better predict and respond to your teen’s shifting moods, you will also become a more reliable ally.

Know how to say the right thing – Teens with Bipolar Disorder may be very sensitive to criticism or may respond poorly to certain approaches. It is especially important to choose your words wisely during intense lows and highs. If erratic or irrational behavior occurs, knowing how to react to it effectively without frustrated remarks and harsh criticisms can be the difference between helping your teen cope and causing further harm.

If you find yourself getting frustrated, or speaking out of turn, it may be time to take a break and focus on your own health. Many parents benefit from therapy sessions, learning how to better communicate and cope with their own stress. A healthy parent is the Bipolar teen’s best advocate when Depression and overactive thoughts strike.

Know who to call – It’s okay to reach out to the professionals if and when you need help. No parent needs to feel alone in dealing with teen Bipolar Disorder. Knowing who to contact if you are running out of coping options or you believe your teen’s life may be at risk is an absolute must. Make a list of phone numbers – therapists, doctors, and your local hospital. Keep it in a safe place for emergencies.

The emotional shifts your teen experiences can quickly vacillate from intense joy to dangerous suicidal ideation; your ability to maintain a dialogue and communicate with them is critical to keeping them safe. Be frank, honest, and non-judgmental, even if their thoughts or ideas seem strange, absurd, or even downright delusional. If you do need to reach out for professional help, know that you are doing the right thing – even if they protest.

What Types of Teen Bipolar Disorder Treatment Are Available?

Helping your teen access treatment for Bipolar Disorder starts with one very simple step: just reach out! If your teen’s symptoms are severe, he or she may require temporary hospitalization for stabilization. This is especially true if your teen is suicidal or delusional.

Successful treatment protocols look different for every patient, but oftentimes include a combination of medication, therapy, counseling, group therapy, and other holistic stress-reduction measures. Most protocols start with an appointment with a psychiatrist, who can correctly diagnose the disorder and create an individualized treatment plan.


Treatment for teen Bipolar Disorder often includes some form of medication, especially if symptoms are severe enough to cause suicidal ideation, delusions, or psychosis. The goal of treatment with medication is to  re-stabilize mood shifts and lessen the intensity of negative emotions on either side of the spectrum. Psychiatrists may prescribe antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, or even certain antidepressants for long-term stability.

Getting the balance of medications “just right” often takes time; patients may need to have their medications switched more than once to achieve stability without numbness. It is also possible for future episodes to change enough that medications need additional adjusting.


Counseling and talk therapy can be a powerful way to treat teen Bipolar Disorder. While it is not a cure, therapists can help teens better cope with their illness and stay mentally well along the way. Group therapy with peers is especially helpful to teens who may feel weird, crazy, awkward, or completely alone in their experiences.

Therapists also help teens learn how to identify, track, and navigate their moods and feelings, empowering them to take action earlier if they think an episode will occur. By taking charge of their own lives, and developing new coping skills, they stand a better chance of getting back to living a “normal” life with emotional balance.

Supportive Care

When Bipolar episodes are severe, patients often need supportive inpatient care. This approach ensures they are safe, cared for, and monitored, especially when suicidal ideation or risky behaviors endanger their lives. Inpatient therapy is specifically designed as a safe, distraction-free space where teens can live out their most challenging episodes, but some teens benefit more from longer-term group home or residential care. The goal in either case is always to get teens to a place where they are well enough to be in control of their own destiny.

Teen Bipolar Disorder Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

Teens with Bipolar Disorder often express how confusing and scary it is to live with the disorder, especially without the right support. Not knowing when your next episode or shift will occur can be frighteningly chaotic! Imagine having to question your every thought and determine whether that’s truly you, or just your illness talking; this is what life is like for teens during their worst episodes. The good news is that teens who seek professional help have a very good prognosis and a very high chance of healing and re-achieving long-term stability.

At Paradigm San Francisco, we strive to be the catalyst for that kind of change.

A Place to Discover Yourself

Paradigm is a place for teens to explore who they are, who they want to be, and why they can be. This journey to self-discovery is especially critical for teens with Bipolar Disorder and other mental illnesses, especially in the later teenage years. Through talk therapy, peer support, and recreational activities, teens learn how to confront their thoughts to identify problematic lines of thinking or behavior. Bipolar Disorder doesn’t have to be a life sentence; your teen can flourish with the right help!

I wanted to thank the staff and therapists at Paradigm Malibu who helped my niece through a very difficult period. They understood her complex mental health problems and treated accordingly, the center is close to the beach which also influenced our choice. The qualified therapists were courteous and professional and restored my niece to full health.
- Denise C.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Bipolar Disorder

Am I going to be sick forever?

It’s really difficult to determine what the future holds, but you should know that Bipolar Disorder is very treatable. Seeking help is the very best step you can take towards recovery; it also ensures you don’t have to fight your illness alone. When you have the right support, whether that’s therapists, parents, friends, or inpatient care, you stand a better chance of being able to live a normal life in the future – and you feel better, too.

Can my Bipolar Disorder be cured?

Unfortunately, Bipolar Disorder cannot be “cured” in the sense that you take a medication and instantly find yourself fixed. However, you can get better – and often, will even go on to live a completely normal life free from mood swings with the right treatment. Identifying the root causes of your disorder – brain chemical imbalance, physical health issues, or trauma – is the first step toward a brighter future full of hope.

Even if you struggle with Bipolar Disorder for life, treatment is still important. After initial stabilization, episodes often lessen and maintenance becomes much easier over time. A combination of medication and therapy will not only reduce your symptoms, but also ensure that you’re better able to bounce back and respond to changes as you age.

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