Being a teenager with any sort of long-term psychological condition can be a difficult and frustrating experience. If you are a teenager with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, doing even the most mundane tasks—like getting out of bed in the morning, going to school, interacting with family members, etc.—can sometimes seem impossible.
While being a teenager with a mental health condition is no easy task, being a parent of a teenager with a mental health condition can also be a unique struggle of its own. As a parent, you naturally want your teenager to be able to succeed, to thrive, and to become the best version of themselves they can possibly be. If they have a persistent condition with no immediate solution in sight, the struggle to guide them to success can be overwhelming.
As a parent, you cannot change who your teenager is as a human being. But you can help them through their struggle, and point them in the right direction. If you are a parent of a teenager with bipolar disorder you can (for both of your sakes) learn how you can be a resource and dramatically improve their lives.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
One of the reasons many parents find it particularly to cope with a teenager who is suffering from bipolar disorder—previously known as manic-depressive disorder—is that they fail to recognize it is a unique mental condition, and instead blame any negative experiences on themselves. If your teenager is indeed suffering from bipolar disorder, then there are a few textbook symptoms you can expect them to demonstrate, not necessarily because of anything you have done, but because of their condition.
- Cycling between periods of elevated (potentially manic) mood and periods of depression.
- While experiencing mania—making decisions with very little thought, high energy, sleeplessness, excessive talking.
- While experiencing depression—lack of energy, low self-esteem, lack of motivation, generally negative outlook on life.
- Increased risk for anxiety and substance abuse disorders.
- Rapid mood swings, dramatic reactions to seemingly trivial occurrences, etc.
Some studies indicate that up to 3% of individuals in the United States will experience symptoms of bipolar disorder at some point in their life. Because of the chemical, biological, social, and hormonal changes associated with puberty, teenagers are particularly likely to demonstrate these symptoms.
Bipolar disorder is a condition that can be treated. There are a number of different medical, therapeutic, and personal treatment models that can specifically minimize some of the negative effects of the condition without deteriorating your teen’s unique identity as an individual. If you believe your teenager might be suffering from bipolar disorder, you should contact a licensed clinician for help.
Their condition does not define their identity.
One of the problems facing many teenagers who have symptoms of bipolar disorder is that other people’s knowledge of their condition can begin to deteriorate their sense of self. Nobody “is bipolar”, rather, some people merely have bipolar disorder.
Though this rhetorical distinction may, at first, seem to be rather trivial, it can be very important. By realizing that there is something more to your teen—or any individual who has bipolar disorder—than their condition, they begin to establish a better sense of self.
They are not bipolar. They are an artist, an athlete, a musician, or whatever it is they may choose to identify as. They are a complex individual whose very being goes so far beyond one particular condition they may be suffering from. By being able to recognize your teen as a person full of substance, you can better help them in their ongoing struggle to establish themselves beyond their condition.
Try to learn potential triggers—and further learn to avoid them.
Bipolar disorder is a psychological condition that can potentially be worsened or activated by a variety of triggers. While some of these possible triggers may be entirely beyond your ability to control as a parent, there are some things you can control. It is important to learn what these things are.
Some common triggers for individuals with bipolar disorder include:
- Bringing up traumatic or negative experiences they have had in the past and are beyond their control in the present.
- Verbal abuse, escalating a situation through yelling, threatening, or hurtful language.
- Trying to control various aspects of their life.
- Violating their fundamental right (and need) for privacy.
- Put downs, and telling them they aren’t capable of achieving their goals.
Though some of these things might seem very obvious on paper, they are often forgotten about in practice. If you are a parent of a teenager who is suffering from bipolar disorder, realize that even your seemingly small actions can have a lasting impact on their lives.
When someone with bipolar disorder is “triggered”, there are a variety of things that can happen. They can go from an otherwise stable and positive mindset to experiencing depression in a very short amount of time. They can also go from being emotionally stable to quickly experiencing manic anger.
Regardless of what the potential triggers of your teen’s bipolar disorder may be, as time goes on, it is important to make a conscious effort to recognize and avoid them. Triggering an episode of mania or depression is something that is not productive for you nor your teenager.
Your words have more power than you might think.
Because a lot of parents struggle to empathize with what their teenager with bipolar disorder may be experiencing, they can easily grow frustrated with the ways in which they are behaving. But rather than simply throwing your hands in the air and given up, it is usually much better to take a step back from the situation, take a deep breath, and think deeply about your specific words and actions.
Your words can have a lasting impact on your teenager, and because of this, it is important to try to choose them carefully. There are a number of common phrases employed by parents who are frustrated with their teenagers that are neither factually accurate nor productive:
- “Why can’t you just be happy?”
- “Why can’t you just be like everybody else?”
- “You need to stop being so lazy all of the time and apply yourself.”
- “Of course. I knew we couldn’t count on you.”
- “There’s something wrong with you!”
Even if you might think you have good intentions and are simply applying “tough love”, these phrases and others like them can leave a lasting sense of pain and humiliation. Most individuals with bipolar disorder are sincerely trying to better themselves, to accomplish something in life, and to learn to live with themselves. But doing so can be incredibly hard. If it were as easy as these phrases might imply to simply “get better”, they surely would have chosen to do so by now.
Having bipolar disorder is difficult, and your teen is going to need your help. Love and support can go a lot further than expressions of ridicule and disappointment.
You can be part of the solution.
Having bipolar disorder does not mean that you cannot still accomplish great things. Albert Einstein, for example, is someone who has been retroactively diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He and numerous others with the condition have done a wide variety of incredible things.
Though having a teenager with bipolar disorder can certainly be a difficult task, there is still hope. As a parent, you can actively be part of the solution. You can actively guide your teenager to be the best version of themselves they can possibly be.
It is important to continually be educating yourself regarding their condition. It is also important to be as patient, kind, and loving as you possibly can. As difficult as things might seem for you as a parent, they are even more difficult for your teenager. They need you as a source of love and support.
There are a lot of great resources available for parents of teenagers with bipolar disorder. Information is now more detailed and available than it has ever been before. Furthermore, there are also more treatment centers and treatment options available as well. You can be the source of salvation your teenager needs, and there are licensed professionals all across the country who are willing to help you along the way.
Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).