What Parents Need to Know About Bipolar

If you’re a parent whose son or daughter has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, this is for you. Don’t despair. Your child can still have a bipolarfulfilling life. This month I’m addressing mental illness in each of my blogs. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, nami.org, is my source.  Refer to my blogs in May for more content on these vitally important issues.

Bipolar Disorder was previously known as manic depression. It is a mood disorder. It affects nearly 6 million adults in the U.S. and is characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning.

People who live with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania (severe highs), depression (severe lows), and mixed states which contain elements of both high and low experiences.

These episodes may last for days, weeks, or even months, and are often separated by periods of fairly normal moods. This is a chronic condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood.

If your child has been diagnosed with bipolar, remember this – it doesn’t mean they’re sentenced to a life of misery. Excellent treatment is available. More is being learned almost every day. There is much reason for hope. 


Manic phase – Hyperactivity, anger, impaired judgement, increased spending or sex drive, aggressive behavior, grandiose notions, delusions, and exaggerated feelings of productivity and self-confidence. Loss of control, disorganization, extreme irritability, and eventual inability to function can occur. Manic “highs” are often described as one’s best feeling ever, so people rarely seek treatment during manic episodes.

Depressive phase – Loss of capacity for pleasure, profound sadness, irritability, sleep changes (insomnia), decreased appetite and concentration, low self-esteem, and thoughts of suicide.


Scientific evidence suggests bipolar disorder may be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Research has also shown evidence of a genetic predisposition. While it is hereditary, it’s not always passed on to the next generation. (My mother was bipolar, but I’m not.) Life events such as a serious loss, chronic illness, or financial problems, can trigger an episode in individuals with a predisposition to the illness.


Most people who live with bipolar disorder (80-90%) can achieve recovery with a  treatment plan designed to meet their unique needs. (How encouraging.) Maintenance treatment with a mood stabilizer is known to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of episodes. Becoming educated about the illness and learning coping skills are essential to help manage stress that often triggers an episode. The effectiveness of treatment depends on the severity and length of the illness,  responsiveness to medication, and how engaged the person is in their treatment plan. Most effective is a combination of medication and counseling.

This can also be the most difficult and discouraging aspect of bipolar. Finding the right amount and combination of medications that work long-term. Often, medication will work for a while, then it stops working. The individual must then go back to their psychiatrist to make adjustments and changes. This can be disheartening. It can take a long time. Many give up and quit trying. Some of you have watched this process and you know it is gut-wrenching to watch. 

The individual (professionals call “the consumer”) must come to the place of accepting this. Once they understand the need to be their own advocate, everything changes. But this is a process of grieving – the loss of what they thought their lives would look like – and accepting what is. That’s not easy. Much support from family and loved ones is required.


Although bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, it’s highly treatable. Options are continually improving the future outlook. With accurate diagnosis, effective medication, attention to health and wellness, combined with peer and family support, most people living with bipolar can obtain relief from their symptoms. They can live satisfying and meaningful lives. What great news.

Authors of the helpful book Facing Bipolar, insist that those who live with this challenge should not let it define them. They are much more than their brain disorder. The same is true with any other mental health issue.

Facing Bipolar was written to the person who is living with bipolar, but also helps those who care about them. The book does a great job of explaining what bipolar disorder is, what it means for the individual’s life, then  explains how and why they need to take good care of themselves. 

The book outlines four important things they must do to maintain their well-being:

  1.  Create a Structured life
  2.  Manage Stress
  3.  Get good Sleep
  4.  Learn to Self-monitor


Be encouraged. You are not alone. There is help. There is hope.You are Not Alone


Helpful books

Facing Bipolar, Russ Federman and J. Anderson Thomson

An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison (the author is one of the leading authorities and she herself is bipolar; this is her story)

A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness, Patty Duke and Gloria Hochman


Be sure to check out the NAMI website (nami.org) for more great information. They also offer peer lead support groups for family, as well as for the individual who lives with the mental illness. And you really must check out their FREE 12 week Family to Family classes. Excellent. They have one for the individual “consumer” called Peer to Peer. 


Be comforted by this Bible verse. They are some of the last words Jesus spoke to his followers:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubles and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)”



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