Bipolar disorder is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed disorders in teens, which is why many professionals caution early diagnosis and medication, unlike most other mental health struggles. Knowing the difference between bipolar disorder, depression, and teen mood swings is important in determining what treatment options will be effective for your child.
What is Depression in Teens?
Depression is one of the most commonly reported mental health struggle among teens. Depression is more than just periods of sadness or a discouraged response to stressful events. While everyone experiences sadness to some degree, Major Depressive Disorder refers to periods of intense sadness and hopelessness about the future that lasts at least two weeks.
Depression is also characterized by:
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Irritability or impulsivity
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Social withdrawal
- Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive disorder, involves cycling between high highs and low lows–often unpredictably. Many people with bipolar are diagnosed after experiencing a depressive episode. In contrast, manic symptoms are marked by high energy and impulsivity which are more likely to be identified as behavior problems.
Often, people with bipolar disorder are first diagnosed with depression if they consult a professional during a depressive episode. But, sometimes, the line between mania and depression isn’t as clear cut as one would think. Teens who are in the middle of the depressive part of the bipolar cycle may also display features of mania, like racing thoughts or risk-taking, that can lead to overlooking signs of depression.
Mania is characterized by:
- Extremely high energy
- Racing thoughts and/or rambling speech
- Grandiose ideas
- Inflated sense of self-esteem
- Reduced need for sleep without fatigue
- Restlessness and being easily distracted
- Increased pursuit of risky and impulsive behaviors, such as sexuality, spending, substance use
Are All Mood Swings Bipolar Disorder?
A common misperception is that people with depression are expected to be consistently depressed for a long period of time and that anyone whose level of depression fluctuates must be bipolar. Typically, depression occurs in episodes as well, with the most intense symptoms present for between 2 weeks to a few months. In between episodes, it may be hard to notice warning signs that they might experience another depressive episode.
Unlike people with major depressive disorder, teens with bipolar disorder struggle to maintain to a stable “baseline” between the mood swings they experience. While many people assume that mania is more “enjoyable” than feelings of depression, mania is not just periods of happiness or stability between periods of deep sadness and low energy.
That being said, not all mood swings are a sign of mental health struggles. Adolescents are known for experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, largely due to hormonal changes and their lack of skills to regulate their emotions. As teens have often been protected from having to directly cope with stressful life events during childhood, they may become more easily overwhelmed by normal teen issues.
Why is the difference between depression and bipolar disorder in teens important?
Looking at the overlap in symptoms between depression, bipolar disorder, and mood swings rather than focusing on the label of a diagnosis helps clinicians come up with a well-rounded treatment plan to address the bigger picture of your child’s wellbeing.
By specializing in working with this age group, Solstice East uses developmentally-appropriate therapeutic techniques, acknowledging that the rational side of teen’s brains is developing rapidly. This can lead to mood swings, difficulty describing how exactly they are feeling, and trouble self-regulating–all of which could lead to a clinical diagnosis. Teens are at a critical stage in their lives, where adopting healthier coping mechanisms can help break the pattern of getting overwhelmed by emotions and swinging from one extreme to the next.
While our residential program emphasizes the power of recreation activities and positive relationships in mood regulation, our qualified psychiatrist monitors medication for teens who have been diagnosed with a mood disorder, like depression or bipolar disorder. We believe it is important to clarify diagnoses in order to know the best way to empower your child to anticipate mood changes and manage their emotions in a healthier way.
Solstice East Can Help
Solstice East is a residential treatment center for young women ages 14-18 struggling with behavior and emotional issues such as those that can stem from peer-relationship struggles. This program focuses on helping young women heal, recover, and integrate healthy habits into their lives. Students will learn to build healthy relationships, cope with emotions, and effectively communicate. Solstice East gives young women the skills and confidence they need to lead happy and healthy lives. We can help your family today!
Contact us at (855) 672-7058