If your teen has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may feel overwhelmed as you consider how you can help. Parenting a bipolar teen can be frustrating and stressful. You must take care of your own needs and avoid blaming yourself for the challenging behavior that your teen demonstrates.
With the adoption of several helpful parenting strategies, you’ll be in a better position to help your teen.
9 ways you can help your bipolar teen
1. Maintain a structured environment
Bipolar children, teens, and adults can be vulnerable to schedule disruption. There are benefits of maintaining a predictable schedule that is not too overhelping.
Long periods of downtime can also be helpful, particularly if other stressful things are happening for your teen.
2. Keep a journal of your teen’s mood episodes
Keeping a log or a journal of your teen’s moods can help you to better identify any patterns in his moods. It can help you to identify potential triggers. This, in turn, can help you to quickly recognize early warning signs of a mood episode.
3. Plan ahead, where possible
Try to plan your days, weeks, and even vacations ahead of time when it’s possible. This can help you avoid situations that can trigger a mood episode or a meltdown. If a challenging situation cannot be avoided, try to prepare in advance by collaborating with your teen.
4. Reduce conflict within the family
Conflict within the family can lead to increased stress levels in everyone. Bipolar teens are susceptible to these increased levels of stress. They can quickly see a shift in their moods.
Do your part to model good and positive behavior, with solid communication between you and your parenting partner. Family therapy can step in here and prove to be incredibly helpful for everyone in the family.
5. Focus on strengths and positivity
There can be so much negative focus on mental illness, such as bipolar disorder. Please work with your teen and encourage him to channel his focus into activities and projects that are a good fit for his skills.
Offer praise to desirable behavior, pointing out his talents, and making sure that you recognize his positive traits.
6. Be aware of external stress factors
It can be much easier to control the stress levels within your home. Stressful events that take place outside of your home can provide much more of a challenge.
Keep in close contact with your teen’s school counselors, teachers, and coaches. Staying in contact will help you learn more about any potentially stressful situations, which can help you prepare for a meltdown at home.
7. Monitor your teen’s behavior and moods
Bipolar teens are at an increased risk of developing substance abuse problems, along with a risk for other potentially dangerous behaviors. It’s important that parents know who their teens are spending time with and that they’re aware of how they are behaving outside of the home.
Staying on top of these behaviors and shifts in moods can help to keep an impulsive teen out of trouble.
8. Have a crisis plan
Do you know what your next steps should be if your teen reacts with violent outbursts or if he starts to talk about suicidal thoughts?
Put together an emergency plan before you need it. His treatment providers should be included in the plan to contribute their professional thoughts and ideas. Identify which hospitals you’re going to take your teen to if it becomes medically necessary, and also select the inpatient facility that can meet his mental health needs if an inpatient stay becomes the focus.
9. Set realistic expectations
Try to avoid falling into the trap of comparing your teen to his siblings or others his age. Every child is different and unique. When you add in the complications of a mental illness, things can get blurry if you try to compare teens.
Understand that your teen has special mental health needs. Work with him to achieve a healthy balance to live as normal of a life as possible. That said, be sure to monitor his behaviors and his use of social media.
Bonus Tip: Make self-care a priority. Parenting a bipolar teen can bring exhaustion, stress, and feelings of being isolated.
The pros and cons of diagnosis bipolar disorder in teens
Today it can feel like just about everyone is receiving a bipolar diagnosis. The reality is that there aren’t more cases happening, but there is better awareness of what bipolar disorder looks like.
A definite pro, increased awareness can lead to increased diagnosis in teens who may have otherwise struggled without getting the help they need. Many teens are often diagnosed with depression because depressive episodes tend to present before full-blown mania is seen. This can be difficult for all involved because of how confusing mania can be to the teen and everyone around him.
On the flip side of this, a con is that there may still be some misguided beliefs about bipolar disorder. You may find that you need to advocate a lot for your teen regarding school, extracurricular activities, and even with your insurance company.
It has become more acceptable to diagnose a child and teen with a mental illness. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done to find the proper treatment protocol to meet individual teens’ needs. Some doctors prescribe a cocktail of medications that require much adjustment to get the right combination. It can be challenging for you and your teen to cope with how these medications can alter their moods and behaviors.
The more you educate yourself about bipolar disorder and how your teen responds to stress, the better position you will be to offer him the help he needs to get through this challenging phase in his life.