How Does a Severely Bipolar Parent Affect Children?

Mental health is a widespread and difficult issue. One of the biggest complications that comes with a family member with a mental health issue is that the stress of dealing with them can create mental health issues in other family members as well. Genetics can also cause problems in children with mentally ill parents. This is far from a guarantee, however. Here is a look at some of the possible outcomes for the children of bipolar parents:

Outcome 1: Children are Healthy
Many families will have one mentally ill parent, and the rest of the family will be without illness or severe stress. In many cases where this is true, there is strong routine, plenty of attention for the kids, and interaction with that mentally ill parent is an exercise in compassion and family responsibility. In many cases, families that have found a healthy way to support that family member are able to create a situation where everyone feels loved and supported. This often leads to highly compassionate and emotionally intelligent individuals.

Outcome 2: Children are Stressed
If the illness is given too large a stage in a family, it can trump the needs of everyone else. often, when this is the case, it can lead to a lot of resentment and acting out, because the people acting the worst are getting the most attention. Families that struggle with this often have children who get into excessive trouble. This can be in the form of bullying when they are young, and partying, theft, truancy and other rulebreaking when they are older. The other common response to a highly stressful environment is excessive control. People who respond this way tend to be rigid, controlling, and at times, obsessive-compulsive. They need everything in perfect order in their room or other parts of their life to compensate for the out-of-control feeling they get around their family.

Outcome 3: Children are Bipolar as Well
Bipolar disorder is known to have genetic components in some cases. When this happens, children often will not show symptoms until they hit puberty or even early adulthood. The way in which they cope with their own illness will often be a mirror of the way that their parents coped. This means that if parents were open about their illness and treated it with therapy, medications, and positive routines, then children will turn to these same strategies to manage their conditions in a healthy way. If parents are unaware of their condition, or disbelieving in the help that medical intervention can give, then children are also likely to distrust the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist, due to the fact that it didn't work for their parents. In some cases, children might rebel against the help they saw their parents get, but if it worked for them, this is rare because of the frightening nature of the condition.

Cite this page: N., Pam M.S., "How Does a Severely Bipolar Parent Affect Children?," in PsychologyDictionary.org, January 10, 2016, https://psychologydictionary.org/article/how-does-a-severely-bipolar-parent-affect-children/ (accessed April 17, 2019).
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