We understand that bipolar disorder can have a significant impact on the family. Young people who have a parent with bipolar disorder are more likely to have symptoms of anxiety and develop other mental health illnesses. We interviewed Mel, who was 11 when she discovered her Mum had bipolar disorder.
Finding out about bipolar disorder
Before I say anything, I just want to say, my Mum is the kindest human, she has a beautiful soul.
What was the process to you learning more about it/finding out?
My mum got sectioned/has been sectioned many times in my life. I didn’t really learn a lot until I was a bit older. I had to take care and look after my sister quite a lot, so I didn’t really have a ‘normal’ upbringing compared to others. It wasn’t until I reached an age where I had some understanding of what was actually going on, that I discovered she has bipolar disorder.
Detecting the signs
What signs/symptoms do you look out for in her behaviour that might indicate something is wrong?
As sad as it is to say, she becomes her ‘normal’ like how she used to be when I was younger, as you would expect a mum to be. She was always very outdoorsy. We always used to go for walks and on adventures back when she could drive. If I did something wrong, she would quite rightly tell me off!
Unfortunately, my upbringing was a bit different to my sisters, as I got to experience my mum when she was at her ‘normal’ whereas my sister didn’t (I was 11 when she was born). By the time she was born my mum’s ‘normal’ was slipping away. This was caused by the treatment she received in hospital when she was sectioned and the amount of medication she must take. It made her a lot slower, slower reflexes and slower at having conversations.
When she’s on the path to having an episode she goes into cleaning mode, she wakes up super early and gets straight into cleaning and becomes overly religious.
Can you describe a moment in which you noticed episodes of depression or mania?
I remember one time, I was in my room with my pal and my mum knocked on my door and asked me, my friend, and my sister (who was 4 at the time) to come downstairs. So, we went down and that’s when we saw she’d spread out her China set in the dining room. I will never forget what my mum said next, she looked me dead in the eyes and said, “we’re going to have a tea party with God”. We were quite scared at that point so; I grabbed my sister, and we ran up the stairs to my room and I locked the door. We weren’t sure how she was planning on having a tea party with God, but we were scared!
Help and support
As a young person who could you turn to for help and support?
I didn’t really have anyone to turn to for help and support at that time. I don’t have a particularly good relationship with my dad.
Did you have to take on additional responsibilities besides attending school to support your family?
I had to take care of my sister a lot of the time, I felt more like her mum.
Self-Care and Wellbeing
How do you feel when your Mum has a more severe episode of bipolar?
As soon as I know for sure that she is having a severe episode, I feel anxious, full of dread and panic, ‘here we go again’ always springs to mind.
How do you look after your mental health and wellbeing?
As a result of my upbringing, I have anxiety and depression and was told that I have social anxiety and phobia of people in authority. I’m currently doing well, it’s at bay at the moment. Anxiety likes to pop up every now and then but it’s not as bad as it has been. I have coping mechanisms I go to sometimes if I’m feeling anxious, sad, or down.
How are things now?
As a young adult, what is your relationship like now with your mum?
Our relationship is good, I no longer live at home, so I go around and see her every now and then to check in and make sure she’s okay.
Do you feel pressure as a young adult in having a responsibility of care for your mum?
I do, but she writes everything on her calendar such as appointments, she is still independent and goes to any appointments she needs to.
What advice or support would you give a young person who has a parent or carer with bipolar disorder?
It’s okay to ask for help, don’t feel ashamed when they’re not themselves. Don’t take things to heart, they’re lost in their own mind, they don’t mean it.
Our guest blogger:
Huge thanks to Melanie for sharing her personal experience of living with a parent who has bipolar disorder.
Help and support:
If you are a young person and would like to find out more about bipolar disorder and contacts for support visit: https://bit.ly/DMYHBipolar
Bipolar UK – Support for people with bipolar disorder and their families and friends
The Bipolar Foundation – Further information about bipolar disorder
Samaritans – 24/7 Talking support service
SANE – Emotional support for anyone affected by metal health, including families, friends and carers.