Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can disrupt a person’s life and ability to function. If a parent has bipolar disorder, there are things their child can consider to feel safe and encourage a stable home life.

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Maintaining a stable home life is important for children. It can make them safe and supported, and it can help avoid the adverse effects that an unstable home life may bring. However, for a parent managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, fostering a stable environment may be difficult.

A parent with bipolar disorder may wish to consider counseling for both themselves and their children. This can prevent bipolar disorder symptoms from disrupting the lives of immediate family members, such as children.

Understanding the points below can help both young and adult children of a parent with bipolar disorder.

It is important that the child of a parent with bipolar disorder understands their parent’s mental health condition is not anyone’s fault.

Keeping their parent’s condition in perspective may help prevent children from blaming themselves when the parent is experiencing symptoms. People with bipolar disorder may exhibit symptoms of mania or depression, depending on the particular form of their illness.

During a manic episode, a parent with bipolar disorder may lash out at their child or become angry easily. During a depressive episode, the parent may seem uninterested in their loved ones.

In either case, it is helpful for children to understand that these behaviors are symptoms of their parent’s mental health condition and not a reflection of their own actions.

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Keeping communication open may help ease tension and prevent the child from developing resentment toward their parent.

The parent should feel comfortable communicating with their child when they are having difficulty managing their symptoms. The child should also feel comfortable asking about their parent’s symptoms and being honest about how they feel in the moment.

Talking with a third party, such as a counselor or therapist, may also help the children of parents with bipolar disorder understand and process the issues they experience.

As a 2020 study suggests, children living with parents who have serious mental health conditions are at an increased risk of poor mental, physical, and emotional health. These issues may stem from instability at home.

Children who experience an unstable home life may be more prone to certain issues, such as:

  • difficulty in relationships
  • emotional distress
  • health problems
  • high levels of stress
  • anxiety disorders

In another 2020 study, adult children of parents with mental health conditions highlighted the following as key challenges:

  • no reference point for parenting
  • lack of informal social support

Living with a parent who has bipolar disorder may come with challenges. However, learning more about a parent’s condition and taking advantage of resources may help children manage these.

It is natural for a child whose parent has bipolar disorder to have questions about the condition and how it affects the people around them. A person may benefit from taking these questions to a specialist and talking through them.

Some common questions a child may ask about a parent with bipolar disorder include those below.

How can I tell if my parent is having a manic or depressive episode?

Some common signs may indicate when a parent is experiencing either type of episode.

During a manic episode, a person may show signs that include:

  • talking quickly or changing the subject quickly
  • being more energetic than usual
  • having a hard time sleeping or sleeping very little
  • getting distracted easily
  • going on shopping sprees and being reckless with money

During a depressive episode, a person may be:

  • sleeping too much or staying in bed for extended periods
  • feeling sad or having emotional outbursts
  • staying home from work
  • avoiding friends and social activities
  • talking less than usual

Is this my fault?

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that has nothing to do with the person’s family or friends. It is a chronic condition that may change over time or respond to treatment in different ways.

A child’s behavior does not contribute in any way to the condition or the episodes and symptoms their parent goes through.

Is this going to happen to me?

There is a link between having a parent with bipolar disorder and developing the disorder.

A 2021 study estimates that bipolar disorder is about 44% heritable. This means that children whose parents have bipolar disorder are more likely to develop the condition themselves.

However, the chance of not having bipolar disorder is still much higher than the likelihood of having it. Bipolar disorder cannot pass from person to person in the way that the common cold can. It will not “rub off” on people with whom their parent interacts.

Will my parent get better?

Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition. There is no cure, but many people can manage their symptoms well with proper treatment.

Parents with bipolar disorder can benefit from understanding how the condition affects them and their children. The following considerations can help parents create a comfortable environment for their children and other loved ones.

Think how loved ones are feeling

It is important for a parent with bipolar disorder to be aware that the condition will also affect people close to them, including their children and partner.

Taking time to consider family members’ points of view may help people with the condition be more open about what they are experiencing themselves.

In many cases, it can be as simple as letting loved ones know that an episode does not reflect on them in any way.

There is no need for shame

A person with bipolar disorder may not want to discuss their symptoms because they feel shame about how they behave during an episode. These feelings are natural, but it may still help the individual to remind themselves that there is no real basis for feelings of shame.

People with bipolar disorder do not decide when to have an episode, and they do not get to choose their symptoms either. There is no reason to feel ashamed of having bipolar disorder.

Understanding this may help bridge the gap in communication with a child. Opening up about how the condition affects them as a parent may also help their children cope.

Help children avoid shame

It is also important to help children avoid shame in their own lives.

Mental health issues can still carry a level of stigma, and a child whose parent has bipolar may feel as though they cannot relate or open up to their peers.

Parents can also help their children find the support they need outside of the home to cultivate healthy relationships with others.

Express love

As a 2022 review notes, children who have parents with mental health conditions often experience issues related to childhood quality of life, safety, lack of information, parentification, and loneliness. These feelings may lead to isolation and might even affect a child’s emotional or psychological development.

To help counteract this, parents can set aside time each day outside of the usual routine to interact with the children lovingly. They can let them know that the illness does not come before them. It may seem simple, but nurturing is extremely important for a child to feel safe and comfortable.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder. Although many people can manage their symptoms with treatment, they may still experience noticeable changes during episodes.

As a family member of someone with bipolar disorder, it is vital to keep lines of communication open.

Support may be one of the most important factors for parents with bipolar disorder and their children. It is important for people not to be afraid to seek counseling for those with the condition and their loved ones. Working with a mental health specialist may help everyone involved manage their experience and allow them to stay close as a family.

Anyone who thinks a loved one may have undiagnosed bipolar disorder should consider asking them to talk with a doctor or mental health professional.