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Hi, I am 15 and I am currently in high school. For the past few months, I have been experiencing extreme highs and extreme lows in my moods, for no or trivial reasons. This has affected my studies and since my final exams are coming up, I am getting more scared and unable to concentrate because I fear I will get less marks. I have occasional bouts of depression followed by brief periods of unreasonable vivaciousness. For a period of time, I experience low self esteem, self doubt and sadness and the next moment, I am suddenly overly happy, self confident and feel like I can take on the world. Sometimes I cry without even knowing the reason. I am lonely at heart, although I am surrounded by friends. I can't open up to anyone and NO ONE knows the real me, because I have always been a tightly closed book and I can't express my feelings through words. I always mask my sorrows with a smile in front of everyone. As I was surfing the Internet, I felt like these were the symptoms of mild bipolar disorder. Am i right? If so, can you please tell me more about it and how can I deal with it?

Hi S,

So sorry you're going through a tough time. To answer your questions:

1. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which causes unpredictable, unusual shifts in energy and mood to the point where a patient may not be able to function normally. The most common subtypes are: Bipolar I and Bipolar II, the difference lies in the severity and frequency of the manic episodes.

A manic episode is "A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least 1 week". Speech may be rapid; insomnia is very common, as are feelings of restlessness.  You may impulsively engage in high risk behaviors with no regard for the consequences. These are frequently spending sprees, sexual encounters, and drug use. In the most severe cases psychosis, paranoia, and aggression can be experienced.

A more mild form of mania, called hypomania is characteristic of Bipolar II and is defined as "A distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least 4 days, that is clearly different from the usual nondepressed mood." Other diagnostic criteria are: inflated self-esteem, rapid thoughts, less sleep needed, rate of speech is increased, distractibility, greater risk taking. Usually changes in mood are noticeable to others but in hypomania, may not pose a threat to social or occupational function.

On the flip side, symptoms of a depressive episode include: feelings of sadness or worthlessness, inability to concentrate, low energy, feeling slow, and in severe cases, thoughts of death.

2. I am not sure if what you described would constitute as Bipolar disorder - it has pretty specific criteria for example, the number of episodes experienced per week.  To  determine if that's what you're experiencing you'll need to see a psychiatrist. However, I can say that diagnosis aside, it does sound like you're struggling a little bit and I think you would definitely benefit by reaching out and talking to someone about it.

3. Feelings of depression, and especially if you suspect something like Bipolar disorder, should not be dealt with by yourself. Of course there are things you can do to contribute to your overall wellbeing: exercise, get out of the house with friends, eat a balanced diet, and stay away from drugs. BUT, you should pursue other, more focused ways of caring for your mental health as well, and the initial step is to confide in someone. You need to ask for help from your parents, school counselor, or pediatrician. Anyone of those people can get you in touch with the right resources that are going to lead to correct treatment. You may benefit from therapy or possibly medication, but the only way to know for sure how to treat what's going on is by getting it correctly diagnosed. Please, please tell someone.

4. I know from experience how isolating loneliness can be and how disconnected you might feel. I would recommend attempting to confide in one or two of your closest friends in order to establish a pattern of trust and communication - it can be a very healing experience.

Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns,


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Julia Fout


I can answer questions about sex/relationships/sexual orientation, HIV/STIs, pregnancy and contraception, nutrition, puberty, how to talk to parents/friends/teachers, depression and anxiety and drug use/drinking.
I think teens need sensitive, practical, fact-based information that's relevant to real life and is drawn from experience - I'm here to provide just that.
Note: I am not a medical doctor, I cannot diagnose illnesses and my advice is not meant to replace the care of a qualified physician.


I have a degree in Psychology and am working towards my Masters of Public Health with the goal of being a Health Educator. In both of these fields I've spent a lot of time focusing on the needs (mental, emotional, and physical) of teens. My undergraduate courses were heavily focused on the development of the adolescent and all accompanying issues. In my graduate program, I've been enjoying learning about disease prevention/control and behavioral health science, especially as it pertains to sex education. Both in school and out,I've logged many hours mentoring and tutoring kids of all ages; competently responding and reacting to their needs and providing thoughtful direction.

East Carolina University
The Brody School of Medicine
Masters of Public Health Program

B.A. Psychology with a minor in Education
MPH Candidate

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