Bipolar disorder can be hard to detect in adolescence, since teens go through emotional ups and downs. Experiencing highs and lows are a natural part of being a teen. Because the teenage brain is still developing, their impulses and emotions haven’t yet stabilized. But that is very different from experiencing the alternating episodes of extreme depressive and manic symptoms that characterize bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder symptoms are much more severe and troubling than average teen moodiness.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental health disorder that affects a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. There are four basic types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I disorder manifests in depressive episodes that typically last at least two weeks, and manic symptoms that are severe enough to require hospitalization. Bipolar II disorder, or bipolar disorder 2, is defined by a pattern of depression and less severe manic episodes (known as hypomanic). The other two types are cyclothymia, a mild form of bipolar disorder, and “other specified and unspecified” forms of the disorder—a catchall term for bipolar disorders that don’t fit in one of the other categories.
Bipolar disorder includes both manic and depressive episodes, so the symptoms are very different depending on where the person is in the bipolar cycle. Manic symptoms may include excess energy, irritability or agitation, trouble sleeping, risky behavior, and a feeling of being elated. Depressive symptoms are similar to those associated with clinical depression: feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, lack of enjoyment in activities, and suicidal thoughts, among others.
Because people are more likely to seek help for bipolar disorder when they are feeling depressed, it is sometimes mistaken for depression. However, manic episodes can sometimes include psychotic symptoms that may be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. The good news is that, after proper diagnosis, treatment helps many people with bipolar disorder gain better control of their symptoms.