How to Parent an Adult Child With Bipolar Disorder (2023)

by Sarah Ludwig Rausch Health Writer

Medical Reviewer

Stephanie O'Leary, Psy.D., P.C.

How to Parent an Adult Child With Bipolar Disorder (1)

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Medical Reviewer

Stephanie O'Leary, Psy.D., P.C.

How to Parent an Adult Child With Bipolar Disorder (2)

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(Video) Risks to Children of Parents With Bipolar Disorder

Maybe your grown child rarely speaks during family events—or she’s out partying for days without sleep. Moods can swing without warning or explanation, vacillating between debilitating depression and unexplained bursts of energy. And then there’s the drug and alcohol abuse—you haven’t seen it firsthand, but you suspect it’s happening, maybe to self-medicate—and other risky behaviors. If your adult son or daughter has bipolar disorder—newly diagnosed or yet to be—you’re a parent who’s likely worried about their emotional, physical, educational, and professional well-being, especially if they no longer live at home. How can you help?

Bipolar Often First Appears in Young Adulthood

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), symptoms of bipolar disorder typically first appear around age 25 (although they can sometimes emerge earlier), which can make navigating this condition’s unknowns extra tricky for parents. You likely no longer have legal authority over your child, yet you’re concerned about how bipolar may affect their life and livelihood. Know this: While they may push back against your efforts, your grown child might need you more than ever during this turbulent time.

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How Much Emotional Space Should I Give My Bipolar Adult Child?

Ideally, you’ve got a supportive, friendly relationship with your grown child that promotes maximum independence, says Robert Hamilton, M.D., a psychiatrist at OSF HealthCare in Normal, IL. How involved you should be depends on how well your son or daughter can function, what their needs are, how well you get along, and what you’re able to handle, Dr. Hamilton says. “The family’s role—parent, partner, sibling, or close friend—is to be a consistent source of support and encouragement through the good and the bad,” says Teri Brister, L.P.C., national director of research and quality assurance at NAMI.

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How Can I Guide My Child While Still Respecting Them as an Adult?

Keep communication with your child open and non-judgmental so they know their well-being is your main concern, and that you’re in it for the long haul, advises Dr. Brister. Ask your child to name you as a personal representative and grant permission to treatment providers for you to communicate with them, ask questions, and share your concerns. (How to get official HIPAA authorization varies, depending on the provider.) If you see worrisome behavior, point it out to your child with compassion, and offer to help discuss it with a professional, says Dr. Hamilton.

(Video) Therapy Advice : How to Parent Bipolar Children
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If My Child Wants to Move Out, What Do I Do?

Remember that confrontation, arguing, and criticism usually aren’t helpful in any circumstance with your child, says Gregory Simon, M.D., a psychiatrist and researcher at Kaiser Permanente Washington in Seattle. “We can’t force others to do what we want them to do, but we can provide guidance and encouragement,” Dr. Brister says. Share your concerns with your child and talk about what involvement you’ll have once they’re living independently. If you don’t yet have your child’s permission to talk to their providers, ask for it now—in case you need to step in and help.

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How Can I Help Them at College?

If your child is away at school, open up a direct communication line with staff at the health and counseling centers on campus, says Dr. Brister. Your kid might exhibit behavior at school you don’t see at home, which could be an early sign that symptoms are returning. “Early symptom recognition is important, knowing when things are changing and working with the treatment team to address what’s going on before things get worse,” she adds. “Navigating mental illness involves everyone who loves and cares for the person. It takes a village.”

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What Should I Do if My Child Stops Taking Their Meds?

It’s common for a person with a mental illness to stop their medication, so expect this to happen at some point—and be prepared, advises Dr. Brister. Talk to your child about the consequences of stopping medication and give feedback on the positive changes you see from treatment, Dr. Hamilton suggests. “Remember, this is your child’s life—treatment choices are ultimately theirs to make,” Dr. Brister adds. “Like any other choices our adult children make, we may not always agree. And this doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing ‘well’.”

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(Video) Raising Children with Bipolar Disorder: One Mother’s Journey

What if My Adult Kid Is Exhibiting Unhealthy or Even Dangerous Behaviors?

If there’s a risk of harm to themselves or others, you need to get help immediately. Otherwise, Dr. Brister advises you make a distinction between behavior you disapprove of and behavior that’s actually dangerous for your child. This is where having communication privileges with healthcare providers is helpful so you can share what you’re observing, from violent episodes, to substance use, to erratic sleep patterns. Even if you don’t have permission, Dr. Brister says you can still legally talk to your child’s providers, though you won’t get any information from them.

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Should I Blame Myself if My Adult Child Is Not Doing Well?

While it’s important never to enable unhealthy behaviors—like turning a blind eye to drug use—it’s equally important to remember your son or daughter’s choices are not your fault. It’s can be tough to confront such issues head on but compassionately addressing problems shows love and concern, and may encourage your kid to get help. “We can’t control the behavior of other adults, even if they are our adult children,” Dr. Brister says. “We can be there to help pick them up when they make choices that have negative consequences.”

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What If I Need to Legally Intervene?

If your child’s behavior is truly out-of-control, you might wonder how—or even if—you can step in to help. In cases where the behavior definitely looks like it’s leading to harm, Dr. Hamilton says you can seek involuntary treatment, putting your adult son or daughter in inpatient or outpatient treatment without their consent. (How to do this depends on your state.) Dr. Brister maintains this should only be done as a last resort—and only when your child’s, or other people’s, safety is an issue. You can also seek court-appointed guardianship if your child seems incapable of making competent decisions.

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Where Can I Find More Information About Bipolar Disorder?

(Video) Bipolar in the Family – Bipolar Disorder: In Our Own Words | WebMD

The best thing you can do for your child is to learn as much as you can, says Dr. Brister. Check out courses like NAMI Basics or NAMI Family-to-Family, which are led by family members of people with mental illness and teach you everything you need to know. “Most important, they provide support for the family as they navigate this with their loved one,” says Dr. Brister. Dr. Simon and Dr. Hamilton recommend resources from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), as well.

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How Can I Take Care of Myself So I Can Be There for My Child?

“Dealing with mental illness is very difficult,” acknowledges Dr. Hamilton. “Parents need to receive support, educate themselves about the illness, and may want to get counseling themselves.” He encourages parents to talk to other parents who’ve shared similar experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and, since a supportive community is essential, consider joining a support group, adds Dr. Brister. “The important thing is not to give up.”

Meet Our Writer

Sarah Ludwig Rausch

Sarah Ludwig Rausch is a health writer and editor whose specialties include mental health, diseases, research, medications, and chronic conditions. She’s written for The Christian Science Monitor, American Cancer Society

FAQs

How do you parent an adult child with bipolar? ›

Tips for helping your adult with Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety
  1. Just listen. Sometimes you need to just listen. ...
  2. Support your adult child with an optimistic attitude. ...
  3. Don't take it personally. ...
  4. Stick by them and attend family therapy. ...
  5. Help prevent stress. ...
  6. Do fun things with them. ...
  7. Practice self-care.
Apr 10, 2019

How do I deal with my bipolar daughter? ›

How Can I Help my Bipolar Child?
  1. Follow the medication schedule. You absolutely must make sure that your child gets the medication they need for bipolar disorder. ...
  2. Monitor side effects. ...
  3. Talk to your child's teachers. ...
  4. Keep a routine. ...
  5. Consider family therapy. ...
  6. Take suicidal threats seriously.
Jul 20, 2020

Does bipolar disorder come from mother or father? ›

Bipolar disorder is the most likely psychiatric disorder to be passed down from family. If one parent has bipolar disorder, there's a 10% chance that their child will develop the illness. If both parents have bipolar disorder, the likelihood of their child developing bipolar disorder rises to 40%.

How does bipolar affect parents? ›

Bipolar disorder can impact families in the following ways:

Emotional distress such as guilt, grief, and worry. Disruption in regular routines. Having to deal with unusual or dangerous behaviour. Financial stresses as a result of reduced income or excessive spending.

How do you respond to bipolar rage? ›

Handling Bipolar Anger
  1. Remain as calm as you can, talk slowly and clearly.
  2. Stay in control. ...
  3. Do not approach or touch the person without his or her request or permission to do so.
  4. Allow the person an avenue of escape.
  5. Do not give in to all demands, keep limits and consequences clear.

How do you set boundaries with bipolar children? ›

Bipolar Disorder Boundaries #1

Limit the amount of time you spend focusing on the negatives of your relationship or BD. Instead, routinely and intentionally enjoy each other and reflect on what draws you together.BD partners need to be affirmed and reassured more than others.

How do I talk to my bipolar child? ›

If your child has bipolar disorder, here are some basic things you can do:
  1. Be patient.
  2. Encourage your child to talk, and listen to your child carefully.
  3. Pay attention to your child's moods, and be alert to any major changes.
  4. Understand triggers, and learn strategies for managing intense emotions and irritability.

Can you grow out of bipolar? ›

With symptoms often starting in early adulthood, bipolar disorder has been thought of traditionally as a lifelong disorder. Now, researchers have found evidence that nearly half of those diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 25 may outgrow the disorder by the time they reach 30.

How do you set boundaries with bipolar? ›

Consider the following steps to keeping your sanity when living with someone with bipolar disorder.
  1. Get the facts about bipolar disorder. ...
  2. Get into therapy. ...
  3. Take care of yourself. ...
  4. Establish healthy separation. ...
  5. Set boundaries. ...
  6. Be proactive when setting safeguards. ...
  7. Develop a support system. ...
  8. Insist on medication compliance.
Jun 30, 2020

What is the best job for a bipolar person? ›

What are some good jobs for people with bipolar disorder?
  • Writer. Technical and copy writers often work from home creating or editing content for businesses, schools and other organisations. ...
  • Receptionist. ...
  • Web developer. ...
  • Accountant. ...
  • Audiologist. ...
  • Sonographer. ...
  • Jeweller. ...
  • Hair stylist.
Oct 7, 2020

What triggers bipolar? ›

Factors that may increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder or act as a trigger for the first episode include: Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with bipolar disorder. Periods of high stress, such as the death of a loved one or other traumatic event. Drug or alcohol abuse.

What is the life expectancy of a person with bipolar disorder? ›

Figure 2 summarises life expectancy estimates for patients with bipolar disorder in individual studies. The pooled life expectancy was 66.88 years (95% CI 64.47–69.28).

Does bipolar get worse as you age? ›

Changes in the frequency and severity of episodes are among the most evident changes in bipolar disorder at an older age. Research suggests that older adults with bipolar disorder often experience: more frequent episodes. more depressive episodes and less time spent in manic or hypomanic states.

Is it hard to live with someone with bipolar? ›

It can be very challenge to live with someone who has bipolar disorder, but it's important to first take care of yourself. Having safeguards in place for your safety, practicing mindfulness and setting limits can help loved ones cope with bipolar disorder in the household.

Are bipolar narcissistic? ›

Mental health experts have found that some key features of bipolar disorder and narcissism overlap. These include setting high, sometimes unattainable, goals and being very impulsive. As a result, people with bipolar disorder often also have narcissistic personality disorder.

Should you argue with a bipolar person? ›

Never engage in dialogue with the other person's amygdala

For persons living with bipolar, the amygdala may be overactivated or very easily triggered. Don't engage in an argument or debate with your bipolar partner when he or she is in a fear state. Wait until there is calm again.

Can person with bipolar control their actions? ›

Yes, people with bipolar disorder think differently. But they can manage their thoughts and lead happy, healthy lives with effective treatment.

What is the best medication for bipolar anger? ›

Lithium is one of the most frequently prescribed medications for bipolar disorder. That is because it works on your brain as a mood stabilizer. It can help control both mania and depression.

How do you help a bipolar person who doesn't want help? ›

If someone you care about is struggling with this illness but doesn't want to get treatment, there are things you can do. Be supportive, listen, reason with your loved one, present a plan for treatment, and if necessary consider staging an intervention with the help of a mental health professional.

What do you do when bipolar pushes you away? ›

How can I help someone with bipolar disorder?
  • Educate yourself. The more you know about bipolar disorder, the more you'll be able to help. ...
  • Listen. ...
  • Be a champion. ...
  • Be active in their treatment. ...
  • Make a plan. ...
  • Support, don't push. ...
  • Be understanding. ...
  • Don't neglect yourself.

Do bipolar people know they are bipolar? ›

A person with bipolar disorder may be unaware they're in the manic phase. After the episode is over, they may be shocked at their behaviour. But at the time, they may believe other people are being negative or unhelpful. Some people with bipolar disorder have more frequent and severe episodes than others.

How long do bipolar episodes last? ›

Early signs (called “prodromal symptoms”) that you're getting ready to have a manic episode can last weeks to months. If you're not already receiving treatment, episodes of bipolar-related mania can last between three and six months. With effective treatment, a manic episode usually improves within about three months.

How do you love someone with bipolar? ›

Romantic relationships with someone who has bipolar disorder
  1. Educate yourself. This is the first thing you should do when you start a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder. ...
  2. Ask about their experience. ...
  3. Try to be patient. ...
  4. Be open. ...
  5. Support their care. ...
  6. Get support when you need it.

What foods are good for bipolar? ›

Eating a balance of protective, nutrient-dense foods. These foods include fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, cold-water fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, soy products, and nuts and seeds.

Is CBD good for bipolar? ›

And people with bipolar disorder may be more likely to use cannabis in the first place. Still, there's evidence that CBD may help with stress, anxiety, and depression. CBD's potential ability to help with depression may benefit people with bipolar who are experiencing a depressive episode.

Is bipolar brain damage? ›

A study by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center indicates that people with bipolar disorder may suffer progressive brain damage.

What are healthy boundaries with parents? ›

5 Tips for Setting Boundaries with Your Parents
  • 1: Consider professional help from a therapist. ...
  • 2: Keep it positive. ...
  • 3: Have an open conversation. ...
  • 4: Don't feel guilty. ...
  • 5: Stand your ground.
Feb 4, 2022

Are people born bipolar? ›

Genes. Bipolar disorder often runs in families, and research suggests this is mostly explained by heredity—people with certain genes are more likely to develop bipolar disorder than others. Many genes are involved, and no one gene can cause the disorder.

What is high functioning bipolar? ›

People with high functioning bipolar disorder may seem to have a handle on their symptoms, but that doesn't mean their condition is any less severe. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme shifts in mood and energy levels.

Can I live with bipolar without medication? ›

In those instances, if one can consistently utilize healthy lifestyle management and good self-care, then it may be possible to maintain mood stability without medication. I have found that's usually just not the case for many with bipolar disorder.

What is a bipolar meltdown? ›

Advertisement. Children with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, have what are known as “affective storms,” which are uncontrolled rages that follow a minor (or no) provocation. If you've ever seen one, you'll never forget it. These are way, way beyond temper tantrums.

Do bipolar patients remember manic episodes? ›

Detection of mania, or at least of brief hypomania, is required for diagnosis of bipolar disorder. This diagnosis is often missed or not remembered as an illness. People close to the patient may recall episodes, however, and patients who do not remember episodes of affective disturbance may recall their consequences.

Can bipolar be caused by trauma? ›

People who experience traumatic events are at higher risk for developing bipolar disorder. Childhood factors such as sexual or physical abuse, neglect, the death of a parent, or other traumatic events can increase the risk of bipolar disorder later in life.

Does caffeine worsen bipolar? ›

Some evidence suggests that caffeine may worsen mood destabilization in bipolar disorder, potentially leading to manic episodes. Caffeine can also disrupt bipolar disorder treatment, resulting in potentially dangerous side effects or reduced treatment effectiveness.

How do you care for someone with bipolar? ›

Supporting someone with bipolar disorder
  1. Be open about bipolar disorder.
  2. Make a plan for manic episodes.
  3. Discuss behaviour you find challenging.
  4. Learn their warning signs and triggers.
  5. Try not to make assumptions.
  6. Look after yourself.

What percent of bipolar marriages end in divorce? ›

In the United States and Canada, at least 40 percent of all marriages fail. But the statistics for marriages involving a person who has bipolar disorder are especially sobering—an estimated 90 percent of these end in divorce, according to the article “Managing Bipolar Disorder” in Psychology Today.

When does bipolar disorder peak? ›

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness with the peak age of onset between 20 and 40 years.

Can bipolar turn into schizophrenia? ›

However, these conditions are distinct from one another, and they do not always co-occur. While bipolar disorder cannot develop into schizophrenia, it's possible to experience symptoms of both. Before you consult a mental health professional, here are a few things you should know about the two conditions.

Does bipolar lack empathy? ›

Bipolar disorder may make it more difficult for you to interpret people's emotions. Missed clues make it harder for you to empathize when others feel happy or sad. If someone is feeling troubled, you may lack enough empathy to be moved to help.

What are bipolar personality traits? ›

We found that bipolar patients present higher levels of novelty seeking, harm avoidance and self-transcendence and lower levels of self-directedness and cooperativeness than healthy individuals. In bipolar patients, self-directedness decreased as the depression severity increased.

How do you help a bipolar person who doesn't want help? ›

If someone you care about is struggling with this illness but doesn't want to get treatment, there are things you can do. Be supportive, listen, reason with your loved one, present a plan for treatment, and if necessary consider staging an intervention with the help of a mental health professional.

How can I help my mentally ill son? ›

From One Parent to Another: How to Help Your Child
  1. Accept Your Child's Diagnosis. ...
  2. Get Educated and Network. ...
  3. Listen and Don't be Judgmental. ...
  4. Call a Crisis Line. ...
  5. Don't Let Shame Interfere with Getting Help. ...
  6. Empower Your Child. ...
  7. Have a Discussion About Suicide. ...
  8. Have Hope.
Dec 9, 2016

How do I know if my adult child is bipolar? ›

Identifying Mania
  1. Easily distracted – They might become easily distracted, going back and forth between multiple topics without reason.
  2. Reckless – Pay close attention if your child is acting more reckless with their spending—something you can monitor especially if they live at home.
Apr 2, 2019

How do you set boundaries with bipolar? ›

Consider the following steps to keeping your sanity when living with someone with bipolar disorder.
  1. Get the facts about bipolar disorder. ...
  2. Get into therapy. ...
  3. Take care of yourself. ...
  4. Establish healthy separation. ...
  5. Set boundaries. ...
  6. Be proactive when setting safeguards. ...
  7. Develop a support system. ...
  8. Insist on medication compliance.
Jun 30, 2020

How do you live with someone who has bipolar? ›

In addition to in-person meetings, online counseling services can be very helpful and convenient for people with bipolar disorder.
  • Take Care of Yourself. ...
  • Get Plenty of Rest. ...
  • Put Safeguards in Place. ...
  • Practice Mindfulness. ...
  • Set Limits. ...
  • Figure out your level of involvement. ...
  • Educate Yourself. ...
  • Come up with a contract.
Jun 15, 2022

What triggers bipolar disorder? ›

Factors that may increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder or act as a trigger for the first episode include: Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with bipolar disorder. Periods of high stress, such as the death of a loved one or other traumatic event. Drug or alcohol abuse.

Does bipolar worsen with age? ›

Changes in the frequency and severity of episodes are among the most evident changes in bipolar disorder at an older age. Research suggests that older adults with bipolar disorder often experience: more frequent episodes. more depressive episodes and less time spent in manic or hypomanic states.

How do you survive living with a mentally ill person? ›

Try to eat healthy meals, get some exercise, and get enough sleep. Making time to do things you enjoy will help you keep your stress levels in check. You'll be better able to support your loved one if you take steps to maintain your own physical and mental health.

How do you help someone who doesn't want to be helped? ›

What to do when they don't want help
  1. Listen and validate. If your relationship is iffy, it doesn't hurt to just listen. ...
  2. Ask questions. Ask your loved one what they want! ...
  3. Resist the urge to fix or give advice. ...
  4. Explore options together. ...
  5. Take care of yourself and find your own support.

How do you convince a manic person to get help? ›

Here are 10 steps you can take to help someone with bipolar disorder:
  1. Educate yourself. The more you know about bipolar disorder, the more you'll be able to help. ...
  2. Listen. ...
  3. Be a champion. ...
  4. Be active in their treatment. ...
  5. Make a plan. ...
  6. Support, don't push. ...
  7. Be understanding. ...
  8. Don't neglect yourself.

Do bipolar people know they are bipolar? ›

A person with bipolar disorder may be unaware they're in the manic phase. After the episode is over, they may be shocked at their behaviour. But at the time, they may believe other people are being negative or unhelpful. Some people with bipolar disorder have more frequent and severe episodes than others.

Why do daughters blame their mothers? ›

Adult children sometimes blame their parents for everything negative in their lives: lack of motivation, poor self-confidence, career uncertainty, overwork, fears, anger, loneliness, conflict, relationship break-ups, and more.

Videos

1. Anguished mother of adult bipolar son speaks out - 2012-02-22
(Orange County Register)
2. 10 Ways to HELP Someone With BIPOLAR DISORDER
(Polar Warriors)
3. IF YOUR ADULT CHILD HAS BI-POLAR DISORDER, LISA LOGAN
(Lisa Logan)
4. BIPOLAR DISORDER: Mother & Son Interview
(Polar Warriors)
5. It's Difficult: Listening to the Mothers of Adult Children with Mental Health Challenges
(International Bipolar Foundation)
6. Steve - father of two young adults who have mental illness
(Ontario Shores)
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