Parenting With Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that can cause severe mood swings. Bipolar parents must manage their condition in order to provide their children with a positive, supportive, and healthy home life. The risks of growing up with a bipolar parent are real, but they are also preventable. By focusing on your own wellness and supporting your children’s mental health, bipolar disorder doesn’t have to get in the way of a happy childhood.

Parents just want the best for their children, but for those with mental illness it’s not so easy to provide. Your symptoms and moods get in the way of parenting when you have bipolar disorder. Keep in mind that this is not your fault and that having a mental illness does not have to mean that you are a bad parent or that your children suffer. Take actions to manage your illness, teach your children about good mental health, and work together as a family to create a supportive, loving home environment, and they will be just fine.

Bipolar is a mental illness that causes cycles of depression and mania. Depression causes sadness, hopelessness, a low mood, fatigue, apathy, difficulty thinking or making decisions, and changes in eating and sleeping. Mania is characterized by excessive energy and activity, exaggerated self-confidence, euphoria, racing thoughts, jumpiness, and poor and impulsive decision making.

If you feel like you may have bipolar disorder and you are raising children, their safety and well-being is probably at the front of your mind. The most important first step to take is to get evaluated and diagnosed by a mental health professional. Then you can plan for how to take care of yourself and your children.

How Parental Bipolar Disorder Affects Children

While feeling guilty about how your bipolar disorder may harm your children is unproductive, it is still important to be aware of the impact mental illness in a parent can have. With awareness you can take positive steps to protect them and to reverse or prevent the negative consequences.

The most obvious potential consequence is that your children will also have a mental illness. Probably due to both genetic factors and the home environment, children of parents with bipolar disorder at an increased risk for any mood disorder. Some of the other risks associated with growing up with a bipolar parent include:

  • Risky sexual behaviors and hypersexuality
  • Substance abuse
  • Difficult family relationships
  • Aggression
  • Suicide

Start With a Solid Foundation of Treatment

The best way to ensure your kids will be okay is to successfully manage your mental illness. If you can function and cope with bipolar disorder, they will be in a much better position to function and to grow up with a healthy outlook on mental health.

It may seem selfish or even impossible to take time out of your life, and caring for your children, to get treatment, but it is the first thing you need to do for them. A stay in a residential facility will provide you with the groundwork for creating a healthy and supportive home environment. Residential care gives you the time to really focus on managing your bipolar disorder, so you can go home healthy and well for your family.

Treatment for bipolar disorder is all about managing this chronic illness. Don’t expect a cure, but do look forward to learning how to manage moods and symptoms and minimize cycles. The main components of treatment are medication and therapy. Certain drugs may help stabilize your mood, but it can take some time to find one that works best for you. This is another good reason to choose residential treatment. You can find the best medication while away from your children.

Therapy for bipolar disorder can take many forms. A residential facility can provide you with several experts in different types of therapy. Behavioral therapies will help you take active steps to recognize your problem thoughts and behaviors and to make positive changes. You may also benefit from therapies that focus on stabilizing moods through routine and daily rhythms.

Another important aspect of care is involving your family when appropriate. Family psychoeducation can teach your children about bipolar disorder. It will help your partner learn how to best support and help you. And, family therapy will bring you all together to create a healthier home environment and to strengthen your relationships.

Talk to Your Kids About Mental Health

It’s natural to want to shield your children from the reality of your mental illness, but being open about it can help them be more comfortable with the challenges they see at home. Always being age appropriate of course, you can talk to your kids about your bipolar disorder and answer their questions. You know your children best, how much information they can handle, and which details they aren’t ready for yet.

This should also open the door to a more communicative relationship, one in which your children feel comfortable talking to you about their own feelings. If they begin to develop signs of a mental illness, having this open relationship will help you identify it earlier and get them the help they need.

Practice Coping Mechanisms Together

Treatment for the parent with bipolar disorder is essential for helping the family function, but every member needs to address mental health issues. The focus of care should be on the entire family. Every member, including the children, can benefit from learning positive coping strategies.

Being able to cope with difficult situations and feelings associated with your mental illness will minimize the risk that your children act out in damaging ways: using drugs or alcohol or engaging in other risky behaviors. These are also useful as interventions that help prevent the development of mental illness in your children.

In the right treatment program, you will learn coping mechanisms you can bring home to do with your children. Use things like deep breathing, visualization techniques, relaxation strategies, tools for diffusing escalating emotions, meditation, yoga, and exercise.

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Spend Quality Time With Kids When You’re at Your Best

Obviously, with bipolar disorder you have a lot of ups and downs. Even with good treatment and management, you are going to face periods of time when you are not at your best: when depression threatens to overwhelm you or when mania has you acting out.

During these times, if you can, rely on other family members to be with the kids. And when you do feel well, really focus on spending time with them. Give them your best to minimize the disruptions that difficult moods cause.

Once your illness is under better control, you’ll begin to understand your cycles and triggers and be able to schedule time accordingly. For example, if you know that Mondays often trigger depressive symptoms, focus on making Sundays fun family days.

Find Yourself Outside of Mental Illness and Parenthood

It’s important to keep perspective in the face of the challenges of parenting with bipolar disorder—and to not lose track of who you are. You are more than someone with a mental illness and more than a mother. It sets a good example for your children when you have other interests and important things in your life. It’s also good for your mental health.

Try to remember some of the things you enjoyed before you became a parent or spent so much time dealing with your illness. Devote time, when you can, to those interests and passions, or find new ones. Some ideas include reading, creating art, running, or volunteering for a cause important to you.

Single Parenting With Bipolar Disorder

The stakes become even higher if you are a single parent, but you can still manage bipolar disorder and do right by your kids. Without a partner you will need to rely on others. Rely on family and close friends and cultivate a strong, intimate network of support. These people you trust and who care about you can help with the kids and give you time off as needed.

As a single parent it also becomes more important to prioritize. You may like having a clean house, but is cleaning really more important than spending an hour playing outside with your children? Being able to vent and share experiences will also be a great relief, so look to befriend other single parents or join a support group for parents with mental health challenges.

Whether you have a supportive partner or not, living with bipolar disorder and trying to raise your kids can be really difficult. Focus on your wellness so you can be there for your children and include them in discussions and management of mental health. Find your passions again and rely on friends and family for help. If you can do these things, you can be a great parent.

Mental Health Treatment at Helix Treatment Centers

Helix Treatment Center’s innovative gender-specific mental health treatment program is designed to help women gain the life skills and strength needed to manage their symptoms and learn to better cope with the lingering effects of bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, and other mental health disorders in a supportive environment that caters to their psychological, physiological, and emotional needs. We offer a tranquil space to restore emotional and behavioral health and stability in a safe, comfortable environment at our six-bed residence nestled in the beautiful Mt. Helix region of San Diego.

Contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.