Bipolar Disorder Is More Than A Typical Adolescent Mood Swing

Bipolar disorder IWK post

by Vanessa Bruce Little

 

Bipolar Disorder is often misunderstood. Although most people have the basic understanding that someone with Bipolar Disorder has sudden and intense mood swings, they often miss the more detailed nuances of the disorder or confuse the fairly typical mood swings of adolescence with something more clinical.

Here’s how to know when it might be something more than just typical adolescent emotions:

First of all, there are two types of Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II.

Bipolar I Disorder is when the person experiences periods of Mania (called Manic Episodes). Manic episodes are periods of at least one week where the person has a really elevated and potentially irritable mood, and they behave in very busy and goal-directed ways, even if they don’t seem to be accomplishing much. Someone in a Manic Episode will often:

♦ Have really high self-esteem (to the point of being conceited)

♦ Feel less need for sleep

♦ Talk more than usual

♦ Feel like their thoughts are racing OR have a train of thought that’s hard for someone  else to follow

♦ Be easily distracted by irrelevant or unimportant details

♦ Be very focused on accomplishing various tasks – even if they seem to serve no purpose

♦ Engage in risky activities with serious consequences (e.g., unprotected sex, excessive shopping sprees, drug use, bad financial investments)

In Bipolar I Disorder, when the person isn’t experiencing a Manic Episode, they are either experiencing periods of Depression (called Major Depressive Episodes, which look just like the clinical disorder, Depression), periods of Hypomania (called Hypomanic Episodes, which are basically shorter (approximately 4 days) and less severe versions of Manic Episodes), or periods of completely normal mood. How often the person switches between these different episodes depends on the individual, the situation, and how effectively they’re being treated. In Bipolar II Disorder, the person experiences both Hypomanic and Major Depressive Episodes but has not experienced any Manic Episodes.

Bipolar Disorder is highly heritable, which means that biological family members of someone with Bipolar Disorder (I or II) are at increased risk for developing the disorder themselves. It typically develops in the late teens (Bipolar I Disorder) or mid-twenties (Bipolar II Disorder), and affects about 0.6 to 0.8% of the population over the course of a year. Medication can be very effective for someone with Bipolar Disorder, but they will likely need to remain on the medication indefinitely in order to manage their symptoms.

As you can see, the mood changes associated with Bipolar Disorder cause significantly more impairment than your typical adolescent mood swings. The moods/episodes themselves are much more intense and cycling between the two can be quite dramatic. If you’re concerned that your teenager may have Bipolar Disorder (especially if someone in your family has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia), talk to your family doctor.

Other helpful resources:

 

Vanessa Bruce Little

Vanessa Bruce Little is the Knowledge Translation Lead at TeenMentalHealth.org (IWK Health Centre/Dalhousie University), a role for which she relies heavily on her background in Clinical Psychology, clinical training, and experience working with youth and families with behavioural, emotional, and social issues. In addition to developing the content of many of Teen Mental Health’s resources, Vanessa also coordinates large-scale projects and supervises students from a variety of disciplines. She strongly believes that you have to communicate in a way people will “hear” and that the quality of the content is irrelevant if your audience can’t understand it.

Read the entire blog series:

Anxiety Is Not A Synonym For Stress

You (Probably) Don’t Have OCD

Depression Is More Than Just Having A Bad Day

 

You (Probably) Don’t Have OCD

OCD in teenagers IWK

by Vanessa Bruce Little

By this point, you likely know how I intend to start this post. You’ve heard it before, but the words we use matter. OCD – or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – is one of those terms we often hear casually thrown around to explain someone’s preference for order or cleanliness. Off-the-cuff remarks like, “Oh, I can never leave my dishes in the sink; I’m too OCD” or “I had to remake the bed – it’s just my OCD” serve to further confuse the issue by minimizing the impact of actual OCD and pathologizing completely normal behaviour. OCD is not about keeping things tidy or perfectly in order. OCD is a serious mental illness in which someone experiences obsessions that cause intense feelings of anxiety and consequently, performs rituals or behaviours (called compulsions) to help reduce that anxiety. Although sometimes these obsessions and compulsions are related to cleanliness or order –often, they are not.

So what exactly is an obsession? Obsessions are persistent, intrusive and unwanted thoughts or urges that the person feels unable to control. Someone with OCD usually knows that that their obsessions may not make sense but is not able to control them, which can cause considerable anxiety.

And what about a compulsion? Compulsions are repeated behaviours that the person performs in order to decrease the anxiety caused by the obsession. These activities vary from person to person. Some common compulsions include: counting, touching, washing, and checking. Although compulsions might make the person feel better temporarily, they can actually make their anxiety worse over time. But even if the person knows that the compulsions don’t really help, it’s very difficult to resist performing them.

In order to be considered OCD, these obsessions and compulsions need to significantly interfere with the person’s ability to live their life normally – at school, at home, at work, and in their relationships.

So why does someone develop OCD? It’s complicated and the truth is that we often don’t know – but both genetics and the environment likely play a role. In rare cases, OCD can be caused by a bacterial infection.

The good news is that OCD is treatable. Most often, a combination of medication and psychotherapy (Cognitive Behavior Therapy with Exposure and Response Prevention) will be recommended. If you’re worried that you or your teenager may have OCD, talk to your family doctor. And remember – language matters, so the next time you’re complaining about your need for a clean house, skip the OCD label and remember that liking things to be clean is totally normal.

Other helpful resources:

 

Vanessa Bruce Little

Vanessa Bruce Little is the Knowledge Translation Lead at TeenMentalHealth.org (IWK Health Centre/Dalhousie University), a role for which she relies heavily on her background in Clinical Psychology, clinical training, and experience working with youth and families with behavioural, emotional, and social issues. In addition to developing the content of many of Teen Mental Health’s resources, Vanessa also coordinates large-scale projects and supervises students from a variety of disciplines. She strongly believes that you have to communicate in a way people will “hear” and that the quality of the content is irrelevant if your audience can’t understand it.

Read the entire blog series:

Anxiety Is Not A Synonym For Stress

Depression Is More Than Just Having A Bad Day

Not Everything Is a Mental Illness