What are the differences between adolescence and bipolar disorder?

Mood swings are a common and well-documented characteristic of puberty and adolescence. They can be caused by hormones, stress and peer pressure, and the numerous challenges that adolescents face as they go through physical and emotional changes. However, if the highs and lows of the mood swings are extreme and intense, they may be a sign of a more serious mental health problem.

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive illness, and it is a serious illness that requires lifetime treatment. It usually develops during the late teens or early adult years. The symptoms of bipolar disease go way beyond the sometimes rollercoaster-like mood changes that are characteristic of adolescence. Teens with symptoms of this disorder may exhibit very happy and active behavior, called mania. They can then suddenly plunge into severe depression and exhibit intense sadness. This condition prevents them from leading a normal life, and it can result in dangerous consequences if left untreated. Severe prolonged depression may even lead to thoughts of suicide in teens.


It is important that parents learn to be aware of symptoms that may indicate that their teen is not experiencing normal adolescent mood swings. Extreme changes in mood and behavior, withdrawal from friends and family, and strong negative feelings, such as loneliness, sadness and apathy, may indicate that this is not just mood but a serious depressive state. If this depressive state lasts for longer than two consecutive weeks, it may be a sign of a mood disorder. Any indications of a lack of basic normal functioning in a teen's everyday routines, whether at home, at school, or socially, may also be a sign of serious illness.

The causes of bipolar disorder are not always clear, but heredity may be a factor, and it may also be a result of abnormal brain structure and brain function. Anxiety disorders in children can also contribute to the development of bipolar disorder.