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Bipolar Disorder in Young People

By Susan de Navarrete, MHR, LMFT 

 

Bipolar disorder in this age group has gained increasing attention in the last 5 years or so.  To begin, it’s important to recognize that bipolar disorder is, in fact, a disorder of young people.  The median age of onset is typically in the mid-to-late teens.

Bipolar Disorder in Youth

  • Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness that begins in youth
  • Onset in the midst of a major developmental period
  • Early course is progressive, so early diagnosis is best

There are two big criteria:  a distinct mood change (typically, irritability and euphoria are common) and  a distinct change in activity or energy level.  These episodes may at first have a more gradual lead-in period but as time progresses, it becomes more obvious.  Family history is also important.  It is well noted that if there are lots of bipolar people in the family – for instance, the mom, dad, and brother are bipolar – then these symptoms are almost certainly likely to be considered bipolar disorder.  Bipolar disorder is 85% heritable.  One of the complicating factors in families around mental illness histories is that often times they don’t talk about mental illness.  So there may, in fact, be bipolar family members that the current parents and child are unaware of.

ADHD is another confounding condition because of the hyperactivity and distractibility and other symptoms, but typically a kid with ADHD will have a very chronic course and doesn’t have episodic events, so that becomes the defining difference.  Also, although depression is relatively common, mania is not.  Substance abuse disorders, particularly in teenagers, can mimic many of the symptoms.  Alcohol use, cocaine use, and opiates – which are widely epidemic now – all can mimic mood and even manic and depressed symptoms, so that history becomes very important.

The bottom line is if you suspect your child may be struggling with this disorder, it is important to get a mental health assessment from a professional.  We at Pastoral Counseling Family Therapy Group are well equipped to assist you in this journey so that you and your child can experience a more manageable and healthy plan for the future.

 

 


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