How do I help my teenager manage bipolar disorder?

Help your teenager manage his or her bipolar disorder by helping them learn about the symptoms. It is important to help them improve their illness-related insight. Teenagers, who know a lot about their illness, usually get better and stay well. You can role model this; you can read books or articles about bipolar disorder and then share them with your teenager.
Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

First, finding a qualified medical doctor such as a child psychiatrist who is trained to deal with such disorders that you and your child like is extremely helpful. 

Next, keeping and attending all of your child’s appointments after that is key. 

Playing detective and reporting any mood swings or changes in your child’s behavior back to the psychiatrist will also help. It’s very important he takes all of his medications as directed. And don’t forget to monitor those side effects (if they do come about). Being supportive and encouraging, and ensuring your child gets enough sleep also helps a great deal.

Here are some other ways you can help:

  • Set a structured routine; set limits but allow freedom. 
  • Teach your child to relax. Techniques can include massage, water, music, and sound. 
  • Communicate and listen. Easier said than done we know, but still a good thing to strive for. And encouraging your child to talk about what’s going on can help a lot. 
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. 
  • Fight only the fights worth fighting. 
  • Find activities that engage your child’s interest and creativity. 
  • Reduce, manage, and prepare for stressful situations in advance. 
  • Advocate for your child. 
  • Be patient. Progress may take time. Again, easier said than done, but do your best. 
  • Don’t forget to have fun! 

Asking your teenager to think about and then write down how a mood swing starts, such as mania, depression, anxiety and psychosis, is a great tool that can be used for a life time. You can then create your own list and work together to make the mood swings stop before they take over your teenager’s life.

Ms. Julie A. Fast
Mental Health
The #1 management tool (outside of medications) is getting your teen and yourself to discover and write down the very first symptoms of a mood swing- especially for mania, depression, anxiety and psychosis. It you catch the small signs that a mood swing is coming on, you can stop it before it goes too far.
For example, I asked Maria who is 17, “What are the very first symptoms of your mania?”  She told me, “I sneak out of my room to go out drinking with friends. “ I said, “Is that the very, very first sign- or do things happen before you actually sneak out?” 
She thought and then said, “ I look in the mirror and think I am very beautiful, my skin is perfect and I feel like wearing sexy clothes. It’s usually late at night and I have the thoughts all at once.”
A lot goes on before Maria sneaks out of her room. If she can learn that the thoughts of being very beautiful mean she is getting more manic, she can ask for help. (Teens do ask for help once they know how.)
I’ve heard these beginning symptoms from teens:
  • I like to feel the wind in my hair
  • My eyes see in Technicolor
  • My skin glows
  • I say hello to everyone
  • I like to play music so loud it hurts
  • I don’t feel fat
  • School gets easy
  • I can play the guitar better
A friend of mine with bipolar I (one)  told me she went to FIVE proms in a month when she was 16 and manic. Her family just assumed she was feeling better after being so depressed the year before. If they had known the beginning mania symptoms, the prom behavior would not have gone so far. I asked her, “Was it fun?”  She said, “It was awesome! And then I crashed and felt miserable and embarrassed that I was with so many guys.”
Asking your teenager to think about and then write down how a mood swing starts is a great tool that can be used for a life time. You can then create your own list and work together to make the mood swings stop before they take over your teenager’s life.  
PS: You can stop mood swings. Medications are first, but you can also use behavior changes and tips from my books to keep them more under control.Trigger management is essential. I use every tool I can to manage this illness. Your teen can learn to do the same.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.