Growing Up with a Bipolar Mother: The Long-Term Effects

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Mothers with bipolar are more likely to relapse with bipolar disorder after giving birth1. The effects of bipolar parenting can leave scars beyond childhood that linger. Early intervention can be the best practice to avoid the effects that can be caused by being raised by a bipolar mother.

Not only does this condition disrupt and challenge the living environment but can cause worries of developing the disorder in the future. Naturally, overwhelming worry can occur that the bipolar mother’s genes may be passed on to younger generations. However, managing bipolar symptoms such as anxiety and depression can be learned through therapy and a support network.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is a mental health disorder that can be a lifelong condition that affects daily life6. Bipolar disorder can causes changes in mood and energy. However, even though it is a long-term condition there are many ways to treat and find relief from bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorders change the way the brain reacts and feels towards certain situations. This mental condition can go through two different phases of lows and highs. The low periods are associated with symptoms of depression while the high periods are called mania.

Low Phase

The low phase refers to feelings of being extremely depressed and sad8. During this period of lows, withdrawal from friends and family is common. Normally during this time the person with bipolar can be withdrawn and closed off from their family and friends.

Irritability and illogical sadness are commonly associated with bipolar disorder. In addition to this, symptoms of being overly tired can occur which can result in spending more time in bed than previously done. Periods of crying in isolation can be associated with the low phase of bipolar disorder.

High Phase

In contrast to the depression and sadness of the low phase, the high phase of mania consists of different emotions such as being overly happy and more outgoing3. The behaviors associated with mania must represent a change in usual behaviors that can be apparent to friends and family. Symptoms of mania can begin to affect daily life including work, school, and relationships.

Dressing differently, spending more money, and talking faster can occur during this phase of bipolar disorder. The two phases of bipolar can be complete opposites and repeat in a circle every month/week.

These changing moods and emotions can cause effects of bipolar parenting that can have consequences on children. Although children can’t magically fix this mental condition there are things a family can do to help.

Hope for the Future

Despite the fact there is no direct cure for bipolar disorder there are several treatments available for bipolar parenting so mothers can get the support needed when raising children. One of the best ways to cope with bipolar and be a parent is by getting treatment. Treatment can include talk therapy and group work that aims to provide coping mechanisms to balance bipolar disorder.

In addition to therapy as a treatment, medications can be used to help symptoms of bipolar disorder5. Medications for this disorder can include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants. Medications prescribed can be based on the specific symptoms expressed.

Mood stabilizers can help regulate symptoms of a manic episode while antidepressants can help regulate symptoms of a depressive episode. Antipsychotic medications may be used if symptoms of depression and mania do not get better with mood stabilizers and antidepressants. These medications can help with the overall mood and can be prescribed by themselves or in addition to a mood stabilizer.

Growing Up with a Bipolar Mother

As bipolar disorders are commonly misdiagnosed or completely overlooked it means that a lot of children grow up with a mother with erratic moods and behaviors and have no idea why7. Mental illnesses like bipolar disorder can lead to children taking the parental role. Children may feel a lack of safety and care from a bipolar parent which can cause worry and difficulty with making decisions.

Bipolar disorders can cause traumatic childhoods and even cause mental health problems later on for the children raised by bipolar mothers. Children that are raised by untreated bipolar mothers can have long-term effects as a result.

1. Trust Issues

As research shows that turbulent childhoods lead to trust issues the same risk arises with a bipolar mother2. Bipolar disorder can cause chaos and levels of unreliability that can leave the child feeling uncertain.

Without the constant stability of a parent, it can be hard to open up and trust new people into adulthood. Feelings of distrust can make it hard to find a partner, commit to a job, and achieve good results in school.

2. Self-Blame Traits

Young children may have difficulties with understanding mental illness and can revert to self-blame for their parent’s disorder. Instead of rationalizing the bipolar mother’s behavior as a consequence of mental illness, feelings of guilt can appear. Feelings of self-blame can manifest with thoughts of how the child’s behaviors can cause the parent’s bipolar disorder depression or mania.

Unfortunately, these feelings of guilt can stay into adult life and feelings of being responsible for anything that goes wrong. Living with the burden of self-blame can be devasting for children of bipolar parents.

3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Another common long-term effect of being raised in a household with a bipolar parent is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The lack of structure and routine can cause children to seek control in stressful situations.

Children of bipolar mothers may follow the rules based on the idea that the mother will get better and have a stable mood. Focusing on control is a coping mechanism that can develop in childhood but can cause problems in adult life. OCD is commonly associated with thoughts and behaviors that can cause distress and interfere with daily life.

Common signs of OCD include 9:

  • Constant fear of dirt and germs
  • Fear over uncertainty
  • Urge to organize and order everything
  • Unwanted and persistent thoughts

4. Depression & Anxiety

One of the most devastating long-term consequences for children who have a mother with bipolar is depression and anxiety. The unpredictability of bipolar disorder can make others feel down or anxious. Maternal neglect can be common in mothers with bipolar disorder which can lead to an increased risk for anxiety and mood disorders like depression in high-risk children10.

Sometimes, coping with these feelings feels impossible if the child continues to have contact with their bipolar mother when they are older. Early intervention can be the best way to mitigate the risk of developing anxiety and mood disorders in children who are at high risk.

Helping Yourself is Top Priority

The child of a mother with bipolar disorder may find it difficult to accept their behaviors cannot heal or make their mother better. Children with parents who have bipolar disorder can feel a need to fix the symptoms of the parent’s bipolar disorder. These pressures can carry through adulthood unless help and support are received.

Prioritizing mental health can be the top priority for children with bipolar mothers. In order to give the mother support during the different phases of bipolar the mental health of the child can be prioritized.

Neglecting happiness and calmness can lead to an inability to provide a caring network for the bipolar mother4. Achieving goals without managing the symptoms that occur as a result of the mother’s bipolar can become difficult.

Find a Community

During childhood, the struggles associated with being a child of a mother with bipolar can feel isolating and cause feelings that the mother is the only one with the illness. However, transitioning to adulthood can cause an easier understanding of the disorder and the ability to find extra support from those who also understand.

Finding a community of people who have bipolar mothers can be life-changing when it comes to dealing with unexpected stress and balancing family life with professional life. Although some groups are in person, online support can also be found to help find a community that understands bipolar disorder. Online groups are an excellent way to connect with others who have had similar upbringings and can be easily accessible.

Seeking comfort in others who understand bipolar can help feelings of isolation caused by family issues and bipolar disorder. Support groups can provide a necessary break and release from the stress of having a bipolar mother.

Learn to Walk Away

As much as it’s important to be there for people with bipolar disorder another essential piece of advice about bipolar is learning to walk away. Bipolar disorders can be characterized by a low or high mood depending on the day and which phase the bipolar is in. Setting boundaries can be crucial to bettering mental health.

Children caring for the bipolar mother on a regular basis is not beneficial to the child. Putting life on hold can harm both the child and the bipolar mother. Bipolar disorder can cause changes in mood from one day to the next and knowing when to leave the situation is an important skill.

Embrace Your Story

There have been numerous books written and movies made about children who have a mother with bipolar disorder. But, no matter how many books are read or movies are watched, accepting the childhood of being raised by a mother with bipolar can be difficult.

Inner work may be needed in order to move forward and find peace. Embracing childhood, life experiences, and a mother’s bipolar disorder can help better adult life.

Healing from childhood and life experiences is not a linear process and can take time. Seeking a mental health professional is a great place to start.

Get Treatment

Whether struggles of having a bipolar mother have produced symptoms of mental illness or the traits of bipolar disorder have been passed on from the mother to the child, treatment can be a useful resource. Knowing about a mental health treatment can help avoid severe symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, and other struggles. Treatment centers can provide a place to talk about struggles with mental health without judgment.

A parent cannot be replaced but finding spaces of comfort, joy, and support can help children with a bipolar parent. Talking to individuals who are not directly involved in the situation, as a therapist, may be helpful. This gives freedom to express the challenges and frustration towards the bipolar parent without restraint or fear of the parent finding out.

Having a childhood with a mother who has bipolar comes with many obstacles both in the early years of life and into adulthood. However, there’s always hope when it comes to leading a normal life. Treatment can be essential to managing the effects of being raised by a bipolar mother when becoming an adult.

Combating the Bipolar Stigma & Thriving in Adulthood

Combating stigmas around bipolar disorders and other mental health problems is essential. Mental health disorders are a medical condition that can be judged and scrutinized by others. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and the fact the bipolar is in fact an illness can help reduce the stigma attached.

Children of bipolar parents are at risk of developing the illness, suffering from anxiety and depression, and coping through OCD behaviors. However, treatment for these conditions can help these children thrive as an adult.

If you or a loved one are struggling with bipolar disorder or other mental health disorders, get in touch with Enhance Health Group today. Our team can answer any questions you may have and give you a better understanding of our program.

Sources

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  2. Colier, N. (2019, July 24). Why it’s so hard to build healthy relationships after growing up in Chaos. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 16, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/inviting-monkey-tea/201907/why-its-so-hard-build-healthy-relationships-after-growing-in-chaos
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  5. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, February 16). Bipolar disorder. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355961
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