Bipolar Disorder is characterized by the swing of moods between mania and depression. Euphoria, elation, racing thoughts, irritability, and substance use are common symptoms of mania. Some individuals will also engage in forms of self-harm, such as cutting or risky behavior as a way to take away their emotional pain and accelerate the highs. When feeling low or depressed, the symptoms of depression to look for are decreased energy, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, and suicidal thoughts.
Typically, Bipolar Disorder is classified in two ways. An individual with Bipolar Disorder will be diagnosed as having either Type 1 or Type 2. The first type of Bipolar, also known as Bipolar I, includes one or more distinct periods of mania, and could also include a mixed period. For instance, if there is a period of mania, there might also be features of depression and if there is a period of depression, there might also be features of mania. The second type of Bipolar is characterized by at least one episode of hypomania and at least one episode of depression. This diagnosis can be made only if the individual has not ever experienced a period of mania.
Hypomania is an episode of that is less severe than a full episode of mania. For instance, mania is an experience of euphoria, high energy, impulsivity, irritability, and less need for sleep. However, hypomania is an elevated mood that is not quite full mania but does include increased energy, less sleep, clarity of vision, and strong creativity. According to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standardized text used by psychologists and therapists to diagnose their clients, “in contrast to a Manic Episode, a Hypomanic Episode is not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social, educational, or occupational functioning or to require hospitalization.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder affects approximately 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. Treatment of Bipolar Disorder and minimizing mood swings includes the use of medication and therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, life skills training, psycho-education, and hospitalization, if necessary.
Mood stabilizers are a common treatment medication for Bipolar Disorder and can help prevent the swing from depression to mania or hypomania. However, not all mood stabilizers will equally manage the depression or mania. For instance, lithium more effectively works to treat the depression versus the manic episodes, while the medication commonly referred to as Depakote works well in treating mania. In fact, Depakote seems to be more effective in treating adolescents who have four or more mood episodes per year (known as rapid cycling). Finding the right medication, or a combination of medications, given the unique circumstances of your teenager is a necessary discussion to have with a psychiatrist. Additionally, as you might expect, lithium, Depakote, and other mood stabilizers come with side effects that are worthy of exploration before your teen begins any medication.
Along with these medications, forms of therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), and others are commonly used for depression, anxiety, and teen bipolar disorders. (See other articles in this blog for a deeper explanation of these forms of therapy.) When medication is combined with therapy, there is a greater chance of arriving at and maintaining mental health.