Bipolar disorder has been found to occur in roughly 2% of the American population which— especially when compared to other conditions— makes it among the most common category of mental health issues. Bipolar disorder exists upon a spectrum and can present itself in many different ways. While some people can cope with the condition rather easily, others may complications as severe as suicide.

Despite the relative commonness of bipolar disorder, it is also one of the most misunderstood conditions there is. Bipolar does not always present itself in a way that is easy to identify. Many individuals with bipolar disorder do not experience the most severe symptoms until they are in their 20s. It is not unusual for parents to only focus on one of the “poles” and mistakenly assume that their teen is suffering from only anxiety or only depression.

Fortunately, developments in the world of teen psychology have made it possible for bipolar to be recognized with a greater sense of precision. Psychiatrists are also finding that they have more treatment options available, meaning that if one type of treatment has been proven to be ineffective, there are still plenty of reasons for you to have hope.

In this article, we will discuss the most important things for parents to know when trying to help bipolar teens and tips to find the best residential treatment centers. We will also list some of the most readily available treatment options. By taking the time to research the condition your teen may be suffering, receive a proper diagnosis from a licensed physician, and connect your teen with the necessary resources, you can play an important role in the coping process.

What are the signs, symptoms, and complications of teenage bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that involves consistent cycling between periods of high and low moods. Individuals experiencing bipolar disorder may also experience “normal” states of being “ between the poles” and the length and intensity of these moods can vary tremendously. For example, individuals with rapid cycle bipolar may change moods multiple times an hour while others may experience a specific mental state for months on end.

When someone is experiencing low moods, they will present symptoms similar to depression. This can include an ongoing lack of motivation, consistently pessimistic viewpoints, loss of interest in the world around them, and consistently talking about death. High moods— which can include mania, hypomania, psychosis, and others— may be characterized by sleeplessness, ongoing energy, impulsive decision making, feelings of grandiosity, and various other things.

If your teenager has consistently developed behaviors at both ends of the mood “spectrum” then they may have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder may be triggered by both genetic and environmental factors (or, most often, a combination thereof). When left unaddressed, bipolar disorder can result in difficulties in school/work, reckless decision making, self-destructive behavior, substance abuse, and— in the most severe instances— suicide.

What are the best types of medications for bipolar disorder? Do we still have any options if the medications are ineffective?

As one of the most common mood disorders, bipolar disorder is commonly related to anxiety, depression, substance abuse disorders, schizophrenia, and numerous other common conditions. In order to make sure that your teen is getting the best treatment that they possibly can, it will be important to get a proper diagnosis before making any important decisions. Only a licensed physician can issue a full diagnosis— attempting to address and treat a condition such as bipolar on your own may result in additional complications.

There has been an extensive amount of research regarding the treatment of teenage bipolar disorder. Possible medications include:

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Lithium Supplements
  • Anti-psychotics
  • Multi-drug compounds

Depending on the specific details and severity of an individual’s bipolar disorder, psychiatrists will generally start with small, isolated amounts of medication and make adjustments over time as needed. It will be very important to monitor responsiveness to medications and it may even be a good idea to keep an ongoing journal. However, if medication does not prove to be an effective solution, your teen is not without options. New forms of in-person and even digital psychology are continually being developed and fine-tuned with each passing year.

Increased Emphasis on Dual Diagnosis

Individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder— a condition that is often characterized by dramatic changes in moods and chemical balances— are statistically more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder than the general public as a whole. Some individuals choose to abuse substances as a coping mechanism and, at the same time, substance abuse has been proven to make the effects of bipolar more severe.

In order to address the complex relationship between substance abuse and other mental health conditions, psychologists have increasingly emphasized the use of dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis is a practice that attempts to focus on all relevant mental health conditions at once and understand the various interactions between them. Consequently, this practice makes it easier to develop personalized treatments that are capable of addressing core issues.

Residential Treatment Centers

If the presence of bipolar disorder has resulted in severe consequences— attempted suicide, substance abuse disorders, physical harm, etc.— then it may be necessary for your teen to be admitted to a residential treatment center. Though these treatment centers are typically not recommended until less intensive treatments have been tried, they are able to offer an unprecedented level of care and attention that many teenagers need.

Residential treatment consists of daily activities, careful monitoring, and a highly personalized path to recovery. Bipolar disorder is usually not something that can be entirely “cured” overnight, but these treatment centers will help prepare your teen with the skills, prescriptions, and knowledge they need in order to overcome the obstacles associated with their condition. Residential treatment centers that specifically cater to teens (of which, there are many) will also be able to effectively acknowledge the unique chemical, biological, and social challenges that are associated with the teenage years.

Ongoing Outpatient Therapy

Whether your teen has had experience at a residential treatment center or not, it is also important to recognize the abundance of outpatient programs available. In these programs, it becomes possible to focus on coping mechanisms and habits on a regular basis without the need for active residency.

These programs may include individual therapy (where your teen will have the chance to speak with a counselor), group therapy (where it will be possible to work with other teens), and an innovative alternative known as an experiential treatment. Many individuals who were diagnosed with bipolar as a teen have recognized that these sorts of treatments were essential components of their quest to living their best life.


It is not uncommon for parents of teens with bipolar disorder to feel trapped and without options. But— largely due to the prevalence of this condition in western populations— ongoing research has enabled teen psychologists to make considerable advances. By exploring your options and understanding the unique dynamics of this condition, your teen can overcome their difficulties and improve their general quality of life.

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