Children are affected by a family member’s bipolar disorder or depression, even if they don’t understand exactly what is happening. It’s important to spend time with children, explain the situation, and encourage them to share their feelings and questions. Talk to children at a level they can understand. For instance, younger children might be satisfied with hearing statements such as “Mommy (or other relative) doesn’t feel good right now but is getting help to feel better.” Older children may be given educational materials and encouraged to learn about bipolar disorder or depression and how they can help their parent(s). Reassure children that there will be someone to take care of them. Let children know their parent is working to keep these things from happening again.
Mood disorders can place a strain on intimate relationships, because of sexual indiscretions that may happen during episodes of mania or lack of sexual interest that may occur during episodes of depression. Some medications may also cause sexual side effects that can be frustrating for both partners. Your loved one may want to talk to the doctor about switching medications if sexual side effects become troublesome. Counseling for the two of you can also be helpful.
Helping Children with a Mood Disorder
Patience and understanding are especially important when a child is experiencing mood disorder symptoms. 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 you and the doctors are working on a solution that will help them 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 have them 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 diagnosis.
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), a written document outlining special education needs, is also very important. Request an evaluation from your child’s school counselor or psychologist to get the process started.
A regular schedule, especially regular times for getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night, helps to stabilize your child’s mood.
If your child with a mood disorder happens to be an adult, it is important to treat them like an adult, even when they are 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.
DBSA offers an online support community for parents where you can learn and find support from others who are having similar experiences.
Helping Older Adults
Mood disorders are not a normal part of aging. You may face additional 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 their doctors and the staff at the facility. Your relative may need special help remembering to take medications. Make sure all of their doctors communicate if they are being treated for multiple illnesses. This is extremely important, since some medications for mood disorders can interact with medications for other conditions and cause problems.
Mood problems and memory problems often go together. Mood symptoms can contribute to memory problems and conversely memory problems can contribute to mood symptoms.
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.