Helping Others Throughout Their Lives

What can I do when my child is ill?

Patience and understanding are especially important when a child is ill. Children with bipolar disorder often have different symptoms than adults do, and are more likely to switch quickly from manic symptoms to depressive symptoms.

  • Make sure you have a doctor who understands mood disorders in children, and is able to spend time discussing your child’s treatment.
  • Communicate to your child that there is hope; that you and the doctors are working on a solution that will help him or her feel better. 
  • Explain your child’s disorder to siblings on a level they can understand. Suggest ways they can help. 
  • Seek family counseling if necessary. It is also helpful to network with other parents whose children have a mood disorder.
  • With the assistance of your child’s mental health care provider, help your child learn relaxation techniques and use them at home. 
  • Teach positive coping strategies to help him or her feel more prepared for stressful situations. 
  • Encourage your child to self-express through art, music, writing, play, or any other special gifts he or she has. 
  • Provide routine and structure in the home, and freedom within limits. 
  • Above all, remember that mood disorders are not caused by bad parenting, and do not blame yourself for your child’s illness.

Children with mood disorders do better in a low-stress, quiet home environment, and with a family communication style that is calm, low-volume, non-critical, and focused on problem-solving rather than punishment or blaming. Stress reduction at school through use of an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) is also very important. Request an evaluation from your child’s school counselor or psychologist to get the process started.

If your child with a mood disorder is an adult, it is important to treat him or her like an adult, even when he or she is not acting like one. As much as you may want to, you may not be able to force your adult child to keep doctor’s appointments or take medications. As with any other family member, keep encouraging treatment and offering your support, but establish boundaries for yourself too, such as not lending money if your adult child seems to be having manic or hypomanic symptoms.

What can I do when an older relative is ill?

Mood disorders are not a normal part of aging. You may face more challenges if an elderly relative is ill and lives far away from you or in an assisted living facility.

  • Stay informed about the treatment your loved one is receiving. 
  • Develop a relationship with his or her doctors and the staff at the facility. 
  • Your relative may need special help remembering to take medications. Make sure all of his or her doctors communicate if he or she is being treated for multiple illnesses. This is extremely important, since some medications for mood disorders can interact with medications for other illnesses and cause problems.

It may be helpful for you to spend additional time with your elderly relative, or, if that is difficult, meet with other relatives to see if you can take turns visiting or caring for your loved one.

There is hope!

As a friend or family member of someone who is coping with bipolar disorder or depression, your support is an important part of working toward wellness. Don’t give up hope. Treatment for mood disorders does work, and the majority of people with mood disorders can return to stable and productive lives. Keep working with your loved one and his or her health care providers to find treatments that work, and keep reminding your loved one that you are there for support.