Teen Treatment Program For Bipolar Disorder

Teen Treatment Program For Bipolar Disorder

When teenage mood swings are intense and unpredictable, it may be a sign of something deeper. Teens with bipolar disorder often rapidly cycle between mania and depression and have a hard time regulating their emotions without support. Research has shown that teens with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of getting involved with substance use and other risky behaviors that have continued consequences in adulthood. This is why a residential treatment center for teens can teach teens with bipolar disorder skills that will help them find lasting success in managing their mood and maintaining relationships.

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Table of Contents

What is Bipolar Disorder?

According to the National Institute of Mental Healthbipolar disorder in teens is characterized by strange mood swings. You may be thinking, “Teens are supposed to have mood swings.” While this is true, bipolar disorder in teens doesn’t cause “normal” mood swings, they’re much more powerful and extreme than that. They’re often combined with changes in energy level, ability to focus, and sleep.

Untreated bipolar disorder in teens can make it difficult for a student to make friends, do well in school, and get through daily life smoothly. More often than not, bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness–but treatment and therapies are available to help those struggling with it move forward.

Signs of Bipolar Disorder in adolescence

Manic episodes are 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

Depressive episodes are 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

How is Bipolar Disorder different from Depression in teens?

It can be difficult to accurately diagnose bipolar disorder in teens due to hormonal changes and problems differentiating between manic behaviors and normal teenage impulsivity. Often, teens seek professional help in the middle of a depressive episode, which can lead to the wrong diagnosis.

Manic episodes are often mistaken as a teen’s baseline, extroverted personality when they are not feeling depressed. Unlike people with major depressive disorder, teens with bipolar disorder struggle to maintain to a stable “baseline” between the mood swings they experience.  Another key feature of bipolar disorder is that the length of episodes can be unpredictable and often involves rapid cycling in a matter of days, rather than weeks.

Due to these differences, a teenager with bipolar disorder will not respond to traditional treatment options for depression, like antidepressants. Instead, they benefit from a more holistic approach that tries to balance out their mood swings and acknowledges symptoms in both types of episodes.

How can residential treatment centers, like Elevations RTC, help teens with bipolar disorder?

Residential treatment centers offer a longer length of stay than inpatient stabilization programs, which allows for more time for professionals to evaluate whether your teen might be diagnosed with bipolar disorder or if they struggle more with depressive episodes. Our multidisciplinary team closely monitors teen’s behavior and interactions in order to come up with an appropriate individualized treatment plan.

While some teens with bipolar disorder have developed coping skills for either manic or depressive episodes, they are less confident in their ability to cope with the other type of episode. In a residential treatment center, teens can learn and practice new skills with the mentorship and support of staff and peers. Our goal is to help teens become more confident in their ability to anticipate and manage their mood swings in a healthier way.

We can help your child heal. Get in touch today.

What are some examples of therapeutic approaches that therapeutic staff members may use with students who have bipolar disorder?

  • Medication management. Our psychiatrists meet with students regularly to monitor the effects of their medication based on feedback from other people they interact with on a daily basis. This makes assessments more effective than they would be in an outpatient setting. Our psychiatrists take a holistic approach to treating bipolar disorder by also recommending alternative therapies and supplements to help them regulate their mood.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The foundation of Elevations’ clinical programming is around Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Therapists work with students in individual and group therapy to find ways to hold two seemingly opposite perspectives at once, promoting balance and avoiding black and white—the all-or-nothing styles of thinking.
  • Internal Family Systems. This theory assumes that every individual has the capacity to play different roles in relationships. This resonates with teens with bipolar disorder who often refer to their “manic self” and “depressed self” when they try to separate themselves from the disorder. Therapists are trained to help teens recognize these parts of themselves and integrate them into their experiences. This approach also extends to our intensive family programming.

What aspects of the therapeutic milieu at Elevations can help students who struggle with bipolar disorder?

Many teens with bipolar disorder experience highs and lows in their relationships and isolate from others depending on their mood. They may be more social when feeling manic and push others away when they are depressed. Or, the risks they take during a manic episode may involve hurting others in relationships by being blunt or having inflated self-esteem.

Consistent support and feedback from others through milieu therapy is key to maintaining a support system for bipolar disorder. The group milieu is an ideal environment to monitor social interactions and to practice social skills that support a healthy group dynamic. Group therapy helps teens feel more comfortable reaching out to others in a structured way. Being around others who have had similar experiences helps teens with bipolar disorder recognize that they are not alone.