Does my bipolar disorder affect my children?

Ms. Julie A. Fast
Mental Health
Yes, but it’s always possible to make sure it’s in a positive way!
I believe that people with bipolar disorder have an extra responsibility as parents:
  • To do everything possible to keep the negative side of the illness out of the child’s life. 
It’s so easy to inadvertently take bipolar disorder out on children whether it be a lack of physical contact when you’re depressed or involving your child in dangerous behavior when manic. 
Children are so vulnerable. I will never forget a friend of mine telling me what it was like growing up with a mother who had bipolar disorder. She said, “When she got depressed, she stopped doing everything. I remember coming home from school and she would be on the couch eating potato chips watching soap operas. We had to get our own dinner. I was 10 and my brother was 6. Then she would get better and clean up the house like crazy and things would go back to ‘normal.’ Normal meant we had zero idea who our mother would be from week to week. We never talked about it. We were kids! It’s not ok that she did this. It's harsh to feel this way, but it's how I feel. I know she was sick and she sometimes couldn’t help it, but she saw what she was doing because I could tell she was guilty. There were things she could have done to get better.”
If you’re trying to manage your bipolar disorder as best as possible, talk with your children about it! You can explain that you have an illness and discuss your treatment plan. They will love and respect you for your honesty. My friend would have been fine if her mother had talked about the illness. It’s lack of communication that leads to trouble.
The fact that you’re on this site asking the question means you already understand the importance of the issue.
You would do this with diabetes, so why not bipolar disorder? There is nothing shameful about having this illness.
If you’re a parent with bipolar disorder, it’s a great opportunity to show your children how hard you work to manage this illness. They will be so proud of you when they are old enough to understand. You will be their bipolar rock star!
PS: If you type in the question: “How do I tell my children about my bipolar disorder?” you will find further tips!
Like most illnesses in medicine, if you have the illness, it is possible that this will put your children at some increased risk for having it as well. That being said, even identical twins don’t always get bipolar disorder. If you separate identical twins at birth and check 30 years later, the rate of concordance is only 45-65%, not 100% as one might otherwise expect. However, the bottom line is that your children are at some increased risk for having the illness as well. The lifetime risk of having bipolar I disorder in the general population is 1%, for bipolar II, another 1 %, and then another 2 % of people will have mild cases that do not meet the current diagnostic criteria. About 75 of people who get bipolar disorder get it by the age of 24.
In a more general sense, having bipolar disorder does not necessarily affect your children more than other serious life threatening illnesses.
Parents with bipolar disorder should talk about it with the kids because they are at increased risk for having the illness as well, much like many other illnesses in medicine.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.