When Your Child is Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder: Becoming a Loved One

Recently someone my wife and I love very dearly was been diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I find myself learning a lot from my wife about becoming a helpful and healthy loved one. It’s a new role for me.

You might say that my wife has a “doctorate degree” in being the loved one of someone with bipolar disorder. Not only has she been there for me for the last 20 years since my diagnosis, but also her Mother had bipolar disorder and took her own life 26 years ago. Painfully she is an expert at loving those with a diagnosis. And now together we have become loved ones of someone that we both love and have watched grow up.

As most of us know, bipolar disorder can run in families. As parents we’ve known this and have prayed that our children might be spared any more of the pain of this disorder that what they already had to overcome due to my struggle with the disorder during their childhoods. But, it has happened. One of our adult children has been diagnosed.

It’s been painful at times watching our child struggle and having to see them navigate through finding a doctor and the “trial” runs of various medicines. At times it has triggered both my wife and I of our past. Yet, both my wife and I know that our adult child can and will live a full and rich life in spite of the diagnosis. Because of our past experience, we knew that finding the “right” doctor and getting onto the “right” combination of medicine sooner than later was key to keeping our loved one from becoming sicker and to begin the process of healing.

Because of what we have experienced these past months I am once again reminded that getting well requires some initial ongoing elements to living well in spite of having bipolar disorder:

  • Finding the “right” doctor is key.

Your doctor needs to listen to and understand fully what you are experiencing before they jump to any medical conclusions. Unfortunately, some doctors have a habit of hearing key words that they assume you and they have the same definition of and they quickly jump to a diagnosis. When in fact, words can mean many different things at times and the better thing for a doctor to do is to ask, “What do you mean by that?

If your doctor does not ask you to clarify what you are saying or if they do not ask you more questions and you do not feel as though the doctor has really heard and understood you; you might not have the “right” doctor.

Your relationship with your doctor is key to getting well. If I felt as though my doctor didn’t listen to me and understand me nor care to understand me, I would be looking for a new one.

  • Having a personal advocate with at your initial doctor appointments is imperative from my perspective.

When you and I are not well our ability to be assertive for our own medical care is next to impossible. I can remember many of the years initially following being diagnosed and I found myself unable to even tell the doctor what was going on or how I really felt. I certainly didn’t have the ability to ask meaningful questions.

I believe it is imperative for your best care to have someone that you trust and that knows you well to go along with you to your doctor’s appointments. For me it made all the difference in the world. And it made a significant difference for our adult child to have someone there as an advocate. If you don’t have a family member or close friend who could be this person for you, consider having a certified peer support specialist be your advocate.

  • Having the support of family and friends makes a huge difference.

Doing mental health recovery alone is next to impossible. Those who have the support, love and understanding of family and/or a few close friends simply do better in the long run. If you don’t have those who are supportive in your life I strongly recommend that you find a good positive mental health support group and find the support and care that you need.

Our adult child is doing so much better today. And I’m learning from a different perspective that getting well is work; work that is not done alone in a vacuum.

I’m going to be selfish in this post and ask for those of you who have bipolar disorder and who have become loved ones of either children or others who have been diagnosed please give me your insights into becoming a caring and helpful loved one of someone who also has a mental health diagnosis. Thank you in advance.

Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.

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