Dear Dr. Michelle:
Based on what I am reading and learning about on the internet, I believe my 14-year-old daughter is showing signs of bipolar disorder. She has major mood swings. She will be really depressed one day and then hyper the next. How do I get her diagnosed so I can get her the help she needs?
I am glad that you are trying to learn more about your daughter’s behavior. If it is bipolar disorder, the sooner she receives help, the better. If you have not already run across this information, a good website to use to understand mental health symptoms and treatment is the National Institute for Mental Health. Follow this link to better understand bipolar disorder and other mental health issues. As you search the internet and educate yourself, look specifically for treatment options for teenagers.
Formal Diagnosis Process
To receive a formal diagnosis, your daughter will need to be professionally evaluated by a child psychologist, child psychiatrist, or other type of doctor. I recommend you start with your pediatrician. While a pediatrician will not be as experienced in evaluating psychiatric issues, they are often the first point of contact for ruling out other factors that could be contributing to problem behavior. Pediatricians can be quite experienced in recognizing the more common signs of mental health and can help identify immediate interventions, such as medications if necessary. They are also often connected with networks that conduct the formal evaluations and can help you accelerate that process rather than you trying to find a provider on your own. The Child Mind Institute is another legitimate resource for understanding mental health issues specifically for children and adolescents and how to find the right help to get evaluated.
Just a few notes on receiving a formal diagnosis for your daughter. There are certain diagnoses that doctors reserve for adults only, such as personality disorders, schizophrenia and psychopathy. While there are many doctors that might hesitate to diagnose a child with bipolar disorder, more and more providers are recognizing and diagnosing teenagers with bipolar if the symptoms are an appropriate match. Be prepared to discuss specific areas your doctor will likely want to assess prior to recommending further psychiatric evaluation. These areas would typically include current developmental and biological changes, physical health, hormonal concerns, substance use or abuse, other behavioral symptoms, family history of bipolar disorder, and possible side effects of current medications if applicable.
To prepare for meeting with a doctor, start documenting your daughter’s behavior in a journal, writing down dates when you notice shifts in her behavior and moods and how long certain symptoms last. Try to observe events or situations that happened prior to your daughter’s behavior and take notes because these events could be contributing to your daughter’s changes in mood. Your notes and observations will help your doctor better assess patterns of behavior and next steps.
Additional Support Opportunities
If you find that your daughter does not get diagnosed, you can still get her the help she needs. In fact, I would recommend that you not wait for a formal diagnosis to seek professional talk therapy. A therapist can help your daughter start to recognize the patterns in her behavior, what may be leading to her mood swings, and help her to develop effective ways to manage her symptoms. Even if your daughter is diagnosed, talk therapy is one of the primary recommendations for treatment. Therefore, consider starting this intervention as soon as you can because it will most likely be recommended upon her being diagnosed. Usually the same therapist can also provide family therapy and help you learn how best to support your daughter and offer you the direct support you might need if your daughter’s behavior intensifies.
Often, another necessary intervention to treat bipolar disorder is the use of psychotropic medications. Even without a diagnosis, your doctor should be able to evaluate the use of medications to help manage your daughter’s symptoms. A doctor can review the medication options and the possible side effects so that you and your daughter can make the best decisions based on her specific needs.
If your daughter is diagnosed, I would also recommend you find a support group for families who deal with bipolar. The behavioral symptoms associated with this disorder can be very intense and difficult to manage and you and your family will want a strong support network to help you through the more difficult times.
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.