Recognising Bipolar Disorder in Early Onset / Young Age

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, the content found in this post reflects my own experiences, research and discussions with psychiatrists during my own diagnosis.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder, previously known as Manic Depression, is diagnosed through reaching a criteria set out by the DSM-5. See this post for further details. When it comes to diagnosis, it can often be seen as pretty black and white. Either you tick the boxes or you do not.

However, Bipolar Disorder does not (always) just turn on overnight. There is a lead up to having symptoms severe enough to condone a diagnosis, which can be useful to be aware of.

Depression at a Young Age

For me, I remember being severely depressed as early as the age of 11. I was seen by many GPs and young persons counsellors, and never once pointed in the direction of bipolar disorder. When it came to finally sitting in front of a psychiatrist, I was told that depression at an early age should have been a massive indicator of bipolar disorder. This is made even more apparent, as the depression would come on seemingly at random, and then disappear as quickly as it came.

Suicidal Ideation / Suicide Attempts

I first attempted suicide when I was in year 10 at school, around the age of 14 or 15. It was a bad effort (thankfully) but an effort nonetheless. Suicide attempts are prominent with the bipolar mood swings, with 1/2 attempting at least one in their life. With attempts at such a young age this is again a huge red flag for bipolar.

Manic Spikes in Mood

In order to be diagnosed with any form of bipolar disorder, you must tick the box for a hypomanic episode, if not a manic one. This must has a minimum of three consecutive days. However, for years before this was something I fully experienced, I would have spikes of extremely heightened mood which would last from a couple of hours to a day. This can be difficult to recognise against being young and “hyper” but the increased energy was always matched with unusual thoughts, such as being so happy that I wanted to die (age 9), and grandiose thoughts (superpowers, think DragonBall Z style, again age 9). Whilst these did not hit the diagnostic criteria, they were definitely building up to a full blown manic episode.

Excessive Drinking And Drugs During Teens

Again, this one can be tricky as the teenage years are a time where many people experiment and learn their boundaries with substances, however being bipolar made me drawn to the party lifestyle to the absolute extreme during manic episodes, then I would completely drop off the scene for a couple of weeks in depression, to then repeat.

Excessive Risky and Spontaneous Behaviour During Teens

Again, whilst this is common to experience from a teenager, I distinctly remember being far more reckless in my behaviours as a teeager than my peers appeared to be. From running away from home, to riskly spending and sex, this would become intense during manic episodes and be a noticeable shift in my usual personality.

Putting It All Together

None of these symptoms alone are enough to warrant a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, even all of these combined would not satisfy the diagnostic criteria however they are things to be looked at over time and in comparison to one another, as they may identify early signs of developing bipolar disorder in the future

Photo by Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo from FreeImages


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