More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Signs of Bipolar Disorder in Teens and Young Adults
by Goura Fotadar
November 2, 2007

Recently, we've covered stories on bipolar disorder in youth. With the rise in the number of teens diagnosed, it's important to know what signs to look for. But as the story which recently appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune points out, knowing the signs may not be enough.
The problem is that many parents notice abnormal behavior in their children but chalk it up to an "adolescent or teenage phase" that will pass. And though this may be the case for most teens, for the best possible prognosis, those suffering from mental illness should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

The story gives the examples of two teens who were diagnosed only after one became suicidal and the other was hospitalized because of a psychiatric breakdown. The second teen wished she had been diagnosed sooner, stating,

"...parents should really try to get to know their child. Ask how they feel about themsel(ves) and the world. Ask them about their hopes and dreams... Nobody asked me, but if they would have, I'd have told them I wanted to live on the planet Pluto with nobody around me."

"Although some children have vague symptoms at age 10 to 12, the signs of bipolar disorder, severe depression and schizophrenia usually draw attention and peak at 17 to 22, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Mental health experts believe that this unfortunate timing is triggered by changes in the brain. However, it also may be exacerbated by stress."​
Some signs to watch out for (if you notice any of these for extended periods of time, ask your child about them):

  • "Increased isolation and social withdrawal. Children may lock themselves in their rooms and not spend as much time as they used to with friends and family."
  • "Severe overreaction to a situation, such as sobbing over one bad grade or screaming at someone who took a desired seat."
  • "Extreme indifference and lack of motivation."
  • "Severe anxiety or fearfulness."
  • "Deteriorating grades or job performance. This change will be noticeable, because the majority of children who have mental disorders are very bright and good students."
  • "Sleeping too little or too much."
  • "Excessive drinking or drug use." This is often something that parents notice but don't correlate with mental illness. It's important to stress that though not all children abusing drugs are suffering from mental illness, drug abuse is a risk factor and sometimes the result of suffering from mental illness. As mentioned in the story, drugs are often a method of self-medication for the mentally ill.
More Signs and the Full Story:

The San Diego Union-Tribune, Knowing warning signs of adolescent mental health problems can lead to an essential early diagnosis and medical care

Learn More About Symptoms and Diagnosis


I feel like this may (I'm saying this because I'm no professional, even though I do some research sometimes) be my problem. I don't fit into any of the mood disorders neatly, but it's definitely depression (not unipolar, it doesn't stick around forever), but it severely alters every aspect of my life, and things are falling apart. Not to mention, I was a 'moody' child. And when I say moody, when I got into a fight with my best friend and gave her the finger (I was eight), and stormed out of her house in front of her grandparents, or told that I forgot my homework, lied down in the hallway and sobbed. More recently, when I received my Independent Study Project essay mark, my friend remarked that it may be bad for our other gal pal, but is it that bad of a grade for me? So I began screaming at her in front of the cafeteria, and stormed out. I only know this because I've been told. I blacked out the whole time. Or when I walked into a table and began sobbing. Or when the costume department of the school musical told me I'd have to give my dress to someone else and made me try on a superbly hideous dress, I started to cry after I walked out of the room. I have a psych assessment in a few weeks. Should I mention any of this?


Account Closed
SB, if you genuinely feel that way about your psychologist, I would suggest you find another. You cannot make any progress if you genuinely feel that way about her. Maybe your feelings for her should be the topic of your next session?


Oh well, she was just the hospital psychologist, so hopefully I'll never have to see her again. I'm still waiting on outpatient treatment of any kind. Except meds, I have those.


Account Closed
:) Does this mean that you'll be seeking that support SB? I do hope that you can find a psychologist that you're comfortable with - it's important. :)
Replying is not possible. This forum is only available as an archive.