Living with a bipolar parent and dealing with children

Bipolar, split personality disorder and other mental health problems can affect the parenting of children. Bipolar and mental ill health of parents can cause an effect on the development of children. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists many children grow up with a parent who may have some degree of mental health illness. The study noted 68% women and 57% men with a mental illness are parents.

Article Contents

What is bipolar disorder?

The NHS describes a bipolar disorder as a mental condition which affects your moods. The moods of a bipolar parent can swing from 1 extreme to another. The mental illness of a bipolar parent was previously known as a manic depression.

What are the symptoms of a bipolar parent?

The two most common symptoms of a bipolar parent are depression and mania. During depression a bipolar parent may feel sad, hopeless & irritable. A person with a bipolar disorder may also lack energy, have difficulty in concentrating and remembering things, have self-doubts, have feelings of guilt and despair, be delusional and disturbed as well as having illogical thinking. Other symptoms of depression could include lack of appetite, sleeping difficulties and having suicidal thoughts.

The second symptom of a bipolar disorder is mania. This could include feeling happy or elated, feeling self-important, being easily distracted, being easily agitated or irritated, making decisions or saying things out of character which are risky and harmful and doing things that could lead to disastrous outcomes such as spending large sums of money without any reason.

What causes bipolar disorder and mental illness?

The exact cause of a bipolar disorder or mental illness may not always be known. Bipolar disorder and mental illnesses could often be caused by the following:

  • Genetics – genes which cause bipolar disorder or mental illness can be inherited. This is especially the case where a blood relative may be suffering from bipolar or mental illness.
  • Environment factors – quite often a bipolar mother can be exposed to environmental factors such as stress, toxins, alcohol, drugs, or other inflammatory conditions during the course of the pregnancy. This can increase the risk of mental illness in the child later in life resulting them in becoming a bipolar parent in their latter life.

Can bipolar be inherited from a bipolar mother?

Children of bipolar parents may be worried about whether they will develop this mental health issue like their bipolar parent. It is not known of what the cause of a bipolar disorder may be. There is a possibility that a bipolar disorder can be inherited from a bipolar parent. It is widely found that just like other illnesses such as diabetes and arthritis, having bipolar disorder in your family can put you at a greater risk of getting this illness.

Studies have shown that bipolar disorder is frequently inherited from a bipolar parent. If one parent has bipolar disorder there is a 10% chance that their child may also develop this illness. There is a 40% risk of a child developing bipolar disorder if both of their parents are suffering from bipolar disorder.

Can bipolar be cured?

A bipolar disorder can be treated but not cured. The NHS notes that treatment for bipolar disorder aims to reduce the severity and number of depression and manic episodes to allow as normal life as possible. Effective treatment for bipolar can usually improve episodes of mania and depression within 3 months.

Treatments of bipolar include:

  • Medicine to prevent episodes of depression and mania. These are known as mood stabilisers and are taken every day on a long term basis.
  • Medicine to counter the symptoms of depression and mania when they take place
  • Psychological treatment such as therapies to assist you in dealing with the disorder and advice on improving your relationships
  • Lifestyle advice such as regular exercise and activities which provide a sense of achievement together with advice on healthy diet and assistance with getting more sleep.

Although most treatments could be provided without being admitted to a hospital, severe symptoms could require being treated under the Mental Health act, especially where there are issues concerning hurting others, self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

What are bipolar support groups?

Bipolar support groups allow the bipolar parent to talk about their condition, understand more about their condition and receive advice on controlling their condition. Some people with bipolar disorder may find it difficult to speak to family and friends regarding their condition and the effects of their illness. For such reasons and to provide additional support there are many bipolar support groups and charities who can assist.

Bipolar support groups can assist you in effectively communicating with other people who suffer from the same illness. Bipolar support groups allow bipolar parents to share helpful ideas and could provide you with assurance and security in knowing that you are not alone. Bipolar support groups also provide online support and blogs.

Some of the most common and popular bipolar support groups and charities in the UK are:

  • Bipolar UK – Bipolar UK have supported people affected with bipolar since the 1980’s.
  • Rethink – this is a bipolar support group which aims to keep people with mental illness safe and well in the community, prevent their needs from escalating, help them with living independently, access the information, support and care they need and to understand and exercise their rights.
  • Mind – this support group provides advice and support to people with mental health problems. They assist with helping you understand your condition and provide choices available to you.
  • SANE – this is a mental health charity. They work with the bipolar parent to improve the quality of life and provide emotional support.

Parenting with bipolar disorder

Being a parent without having any bipolar disorder illnesses or mental illnesses can be very challenging, let alone having to parent a child whilst having such a mental health illness. Parenthood involves a change in life where parents will have to care and provide for their children and families. Prior to becoming a parent an individual will just focus on their own life without the added responsibility of others around them. Being a bipolar parent has its own set of worries, challenges and stress that parents without any illness don’t worry about.

A bipolar parent may face various challenges, concerns and difficulties whilst parenting their children these include coping with everyday challenges of parenthood, managing themselves and their children in difficult times and crisis and worrying about your bipolar disorder and mental health impact on your children. A bipolar disorder or mental health illness can make day to day challenges and living of a bipolar mother or a bipolar parent harder. You may become more easily worried or your depression may mean you do not have sufficient energy to cope with your children.

What are bipolar parent effects on children?

Bipolar disorder affects the bipolar parent as well as other family members including the children. Living with a bipolar parent can be very difficult for children. Children of bipolar parents may easily feel sad, offended, angry and confused due to the actions of the parent. This usually takes place when the bipolar parent has a mood swing, or the bipolar parent is in a high or low mood. Children of bipolar parents may often believe that their parents are concerned about themselves rather than caring or thinking about how the children think or feel.

How can an untreated bipolar mother affect the children?

An untreated bipolar parent can have episodes of bipolar or depression which can last for any time between 3 and 12 months. Living with an untreated bipolar parent can affect children in many ways. The effects of this may continue into adulthood if the bipolar remains untreated. Children of bipolar parents living with an untreated bipolar parent can often suffer from a lack of trust. This could include not trusting themselves as well as others around them. Children living with an untreated bipolar parent may also struggle with trust in other relationships. Children of bipolar parents may grow up believing that relationships don’t feel secure. This could impact their relationship with other family members as well prospective life partners. This is due to relationships not feeling secure.

A child of an untreated bipolar parent may also suffer from anxiety and depression. Children of bipolar parents may have grown up with having very minimal control over their parents emotions This could lead to children growing up experiencing uncertainty in their lives and have unmet emotional needs. Children of bipolar parents may often place more emphasis and importance on pleasing others over themselves. This could be caused by children of bipolar parents having attempted to help their untreated bipolar parent which in turn has made them agreeable or more accommodating that usual. Children of bipolar parents could also find their ability to make decisions restricted. Children may tend to deliberate over decision making for a longer period and making even the smallest decisions could seem very difficult.

What are the risks of growing up with a bipolar parent?

Children of bipolar parents face the risk of many effects as they are growing up with bipolar parents. The children of bipolar parents suffer the risk of constant anxiety. As they are growing up in an anxious environment, they are also likely to feel the same way and behave in a similar manner. Such children will often self-blame themselves for not being able to adequately care for the bipolar parent and may even show anger toward the healthier parent. Children growing up with bipolar parents will often find it difficult concentrating in school, college or at their job. They are at a risk of being less productive due to the anxious childhood they have been involved in.

Children of bipolar parents also suffer risk of suffering from social isolation. They may not have had much social interaction during their childhood years due to the condition of their bipolar result. As a result, they could become socially distant and isolated. Children of bipolar parents can also have feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment. They may believe that they caused the parent the mental illness and also may have feelings of shame in relation to their parents’ condition.

Children of bipolar parents may also have experienced interrupted family routines and may develop feelings of uncertainty and instability. This could be damaging to how they view life and may prevent them from having stable relationships and connections with other people in their life.

Can someone with bipolar be a good parent?

Bipolar parents can no doubt be good parents, but just possess a condition which needs to be managed. Providing a bipolar parent is able to manage their mental health either by use of medication or support groups they may not have any issues with safe parenting for their children. Their maybe occasions however where bipolar parents may need additional support in taking care of the children.

Bipolar parents shouldn’t be afraid to seek help and should liaise with the other parent, grandparents, family members or friends for assistance as and when required. Our family specialists have noted that some bipolar parents who manage their disorder in a way in which is not really a part of their day to day life can be amazing parents.

However as with all illnesses bipolar can comes with serious challenges and issues. It is important for a bipolar parent to seek advice and assistance on their condition and to consume medication should this be required. Having untreated bipolar is likely to impact your ability to safe parent and care for your children which could have long lasting and damaging effects on your children. In order to ensure your children do not suffer from your illness, bipolar parents must seek support and care.

Bipolar parent and child custody?

Quite often the issue of mental illness can come to light in the case of family law proceedings. Allegations or information on bipolar disorder and mental illnesses usually surface in cases of child custody and contact arrangements. Concerns in relation to bipolar disorders and mental health illnesses are usually raised by one parent regarding the other.

Quite often one parent may attempt to use the mental health of the other parent as a bargaining tool to obtain custody of their children. However, it is important to note that there is no presumption that a parent with a mental health illness is incapable to looking after and maintaining their children. Ultimately the paramount factor considered by the family courts is the welfare and best interests of children. Therefore, whether a parent has bipolar or mental illness will only be relevant where it affects their ability to safe parent or where the children have suffered harm as a result of their bipolar disorder or are at a risk of suffering harm. 

What restrictions can the courts impose on a bipolar parent?

Where a bipolar parents ability to safe parent and cater for the needs of children become affected by their mental health illness, the courts have the power to take steps to prevent the children suffering from harm.

The courts have the power to remove the children from the bipolar parent where there is clear evidence of harm caused to the children or a strong possibility that children will suffer harm. The courts can also restrict a bipolar parents contact to being supervised in the presence of family members, in a public place or at a contact centre. Alternatively, the court may also provide for indirect methods of contact such as through emails, telephone calls or video calls until the bipolar parent receives treatment or is in a position where their health will not affect the children.

Contact Kabir Family today for an initial telephone consultation and for advice on whether your or the other parents bipolar or mental health illness is likely to affect your children. 

At Kabir Family Law we deal with all types of family and child law matters. Bipolar disorder and mental health illness is a very serious issue. Parents with bipolar or mental health illnesses should seek immediate advice and attention. Bipolar disorder may not only affect you but your children in the long-term if not properly managed. Children of bipolar parents can often grow up with feeling anxious and suffer mentally. If you are concerned about your bipolar disorder or are concerned about how the other parents bipolar disorder or mental health illness may affect your children then you should seek advice and assistance. Contact us today on 0330 094 5880 to discuss your options or let us call you back. Our family lawyers in Northampton as well across the UK work around the clock and will be able to provide you with the advice and you need at a time to suit your needs.