The teenage years can be a challenging time of transition. Physical and mental changes can cause a teen to feel as if their childhood has been abruptly ended, while they have been tossed into a phase that is no longer childhood, but without the perks of independence and freedom that come with being an adult.
For most teens, this transition is enough to mark the years with difficulties. For some teens, however, the emergence of a mental disorder can significantly alter their quality of life, including friendships and relationships with family members and academic achievement.
Mental Disorders Emerging At A Young Age
Research has documented that the teenage years are a time when mental disorders often begin to appear. While all of the factors involved are not completely understood, experts believe that the rapid brain development, as well as physical development, impacts mental health in a way that can allow for symptoms to appear.
A new report issued by the National Institutes of Mental Health, published in a recent issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, finds that teens experience the symptoms of bipolar disorder at a rate similar to that of adults. This indicates that bipolar disorder often emerges during the teen years.
The information adds to the growing body of research that supports the theory that bipolar disorder largely appears during the teen years. The findings will be helpful for those who work in clinical settings, aiding in the diagnosis of teens that exhibit bipolar symptoms and meet the criteria for the disorder.
The study’s authors note that in the United States, about 3.9 percent of adults receive a diagnosis for bipolar disorder over the course of their lives. In any given year, approximately 2.6 percent meet the criteria for a diagnosis. Despite research that shows the teen years as a primary time of symptoms appearing, there has been little data provided to determine how many teens suffer from bipolar disorder.
Led by Kathleen Merikangas, Ph.D., of NIMH, the researchers examined information gathered from the National Comorbidity Survey—Adolescent Supplement, which was funded by NIMH. The survey featured face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative group of 10,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 18.
What Can Characterize As Bipolar Disorder?
The researchers used the DSM-IV criteria to evaluate the symptoms of the teens and determine whether they were experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. Mania and depression are two symptoms that characterize bipolar disorder. In addition, the researchers made note of the teens that experienced mania only.
The results of the analysis showed 2.5 percent of the teens interviewed met the recommended criteria for bipolar disorder at some point in their lives, and 2.2 percent met that criteria within a given year. Approximately 1.7 percent indicated that there was a presence of only mania in their lifetimes, while 1.3 percent had experienced mania only in a given year.
The rate of the presence of bipolar disorder symptoms increased as the teens went up in age. The younger teens interviewed had a rate of bipolar disorder at 2 percent, while older teens had a 3.1 percent rate of bipolar disorder.
The findings show that rates for bipolar disorder in teens is not dissimilar to that reported in adults, indicating a support for previous research showing that bipolar disorder often emerges during teen years.
How To Help Teens With Bipolar Disorder
The findings also suggest that teens experiencing mania alone should be monitored carefully when undergoing an evaluation for mood disorders. It may act as a predictor of substance use disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The study authors note that the study highlights the importance of careful monitoring and follow-up as teenage patients age into adulthood, to determine whether the symptoms of bipolar disorder are still present.
Parents should take notice of any sudden changes in behavior exhibited by their children. Signs of a mental health issue should not intimidate parents. With proper treatment, many conditions are treatable and early intervention often improves the outcomes.