Bipolar teens see hostility in neutral faces

Teens diagnosed with the bipolar disorder are more likely to interpret neutral facial expressions as hostile and react with fear, a new study shows.

Brain scans also showed that the brain centre that processes fear – the amygdala – shows more activity in these youngsters than in those free of the disorder. The researchers say the findings provide insight into how bipolar individuals process emotions differently to their peers.

Bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million American adults, and is one of the most common psychiatric disorders diagnosed among children. It is characterised by moods that swing between manic ‘highs’ and serious depression.

Melissa DelBello, who researches mood disorders at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, US, says adolescents with bipolar disorder may have a suicidal reaction to something as simple as a friend not calling them back on the phone. She adds that patients with the disorder also show inappropriate reactions during their manic phases: “A teacher will be yelling at them and they might think this is the funniest thing.”