After you’ve received a bipolar disorder diagnosis, explaining your condition to loved ones may feel daunting, especially if you’re a parent. But there are steps you can take to prepare for an effective and open conversation with your child.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes mood episodes — or periods of intense emotion — as well as other symptoms that impact your ability to function.
Although it may seem difficult at first, studies have shown that involving your family in your treatment plan can be beneficial.
When it comes to talking with your kids about your bipolar diagnosis, good communication is important. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the conversation.
Bipolar disorder is more than just frequent changes in mood. It’s a complex condition that can affect energy levels, behaviors, and sleep patterns, among other things.
Just as you probably had many questions about your bipolar diagnosis, your child may have questions too. By learning more about your specific condition, you can better anticipate and answer your child’s questions.
There are four recognized types of bipolar disorder, each of which comes with its own unique set of signs and symptoms:
- bipolar I
- bipolar II
- cyclothymic disorder
- bipolar disorder unspecified
Do some research into your type to learn more about what to expect and how to explain it to others.
Whether or not your child has already heard of bipolar disorder, it’s important to go over the essentials of your condition.
Especially if you’re diagnosed later in life, it may be difficult for your child to grasp that bipolar disorder is a chronic condition, meaning it will stay with you throughout your life. However, you can let your child know that many effective treatments are available, from medications to talk therapy.
You may also want to prepare your child for the stigma that people with bipolar disorder may face. Mental health conditions are often met with fear, mistrust, or confusion. By educating your child about the reality of your condition, it will be easier for them to gain an accurate understanding of its effects.
When talking about sensitive topics like mental health, make sure to take into account your child’s age and maturity level.
As a general rule, the older your child is, the more information they can understand. A preschool-aged child may just have a few questions, but a school-aged child or teen might want to know more.
Consider making up a few concrete examples of what bipolar disorder feels like. For example, you could tell your child that emotions are like ocean waves — not entirely predictable, but with highs and lows happening among periods of calm.
With bipolar disorder, emotions can become more like waves during a storm, with higher highs and lower lows during episodes, and also with some periods of calm.
It may be tempting to sit your child down and explain your diagnosis immediately but you should also consider when and where it’s best for your child to receive the information.
They may feel more ready for the conversation if it happens at home when there isn’t too much on their plate with school or other activities.
During the conversation, pay attention to your child’s reactions. If they seem upset, you can pick up the conversation later. Your child may need more time to process everything you have to say about your diagnosis. You can always pause to ask your child how they’re feeling.
Even if you feel very confident in your understanding of bipolar disorder, your child may bring up questions that you don’t feel as prepared to explain. It’s OK to let them know you aren’t sure about something or want to check with your healthcare team before answering.
Your child may also have questions about your treatment, so setting up a time for them to meet your therapist and other care team members can help bring clarity.
Having members of your support system, such as a partner or close family member, present for the conversation can help ensure everyone is on the same page. A conversation with the whole household present may feel less stressful than a one-on-one chat.
If you plan to ask a loved one to join the conversation, be sure to connect with them beforehand and talk through the logistics.
Bipolar disorder can be managed with treatment, but it may take some time for you and your healthcare team to find the best treatments for you. This means there may be changes in your symptoms and medication over time.
Be sure to let your child know it’s OK to ask more questions as things change.
Your child may also have questions about your condition that they don’t feel comfortable asking or know how to word initially. Try emphasizing to your child that this conversation can restart whenever you are both comfortable.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes extreme highs and lows in your moods. Everyone experiences some ups and downs, but with bipolar disorder, these mood episodes are uncontrollable, longer lasting, and more intense than they are for most people.
Why does Mom or Dad act the way they do?
If your parent has bipolar disorder, there may be times when they’re very energetic and hardly need to sleep. Other times, they may stay in bed and have trouble getting things done.
It’s important to remember that they can’t choose when or how these episodes happen. They’re just an aspect of your parent’s mental health condition.
How can Mom or Dad get better?
There are many treatments available for bipolar disorder. The condition can’t be cured, but your parent can work with their healthcare team to build a treatment plan that works for them.
Is there anything I can do to make Mom or Dad better?
It’s great to want to help the people you care about, but sometimes it’s best to let trained professionals help care for your loved ones. For bipolar disorder, several types of healthcare professionals can help.
Will it happen to me?
Bipolar disorder can be passed down through families, but genetics alone don’t decide whether or not someone will develop it. Not every person who has a family member with bipolar disorder will develop the condition themselves.
Is there anything I can do so I don’t get it?
There isn’t a way to ensure you will not develop bipolar disorder. But it’s important to remember that bipolar disorder is a treatable condition. The outlook for the condition is generally very positive for people who identify symptoms and start treatment early.
Discussing your bipolar diagnosis with someone new, even if they’re a family member, can be nerve-wracking. The most important thing is to start an open, honest, and comfortable conversation, whatever that means for your family and children.