Helping Children Whose Parents Have Bipolar Disorder

Anxiety in Children Associated with Brain ChangesBipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition. In fact, the World Health Organization places bipolar disorder on its list of most burdensome health conditions. People with the condition experience unnatural euphoric highs and paralyzing lows of depression. At one time their mind and body race at breakneck speed while at other times it is hard for them to get up and complete the simplest task.

During high periods there is great danger that the person will take part in risky behaviors like drug or alcohol use, aggression, stealing or unsafe sex.  During periods of lowness, suicide can be a threat.

Bipolar Affects Everyone, Including Children in the Home

These extreme highs and lows take a toll on the person with bipolar disorder, but they also affect those living in close proximity. A new study performed through Concordia University finds that children raised by parents with bipolar disorder are particularly vulnerable to developing their own psychosocial issues as a result. The biggest risk according to the researchers is high-risk sex.

The Study

The long-range study tracked bipolar parents’ children, starting in childhood (4-12 years old) through to young adulthood. Researchers looked at potential areas of risk such as tobacco use, self-injury, delinquent behavior and risky sexual activity (unprotected sex, sex prior to 16 years, abortions). Of these, investigators found that children growing up in a home where at least one parent had the disorder were most likely to act out sexually.

A New Strategy

One way to help lower the risk of such externalizing behavior is to include families (spouse and children) in counseling and thereby help them all to develop stronger coping skills. Concordia psychology professor Mark Ellenbogen was part of the study and has been working to create a 12-part intervention therapy directed at helping kids of parents who have bipolar disorder. The intervention program is called RUSH (Reducing Unwanted Stress in the Home).

Summer Pilot

Ellenbogen plans to put the strategy to trial in the Montreal area in summer, 2014, working with a half-dozen family groups. He and his research team will record mental health, hormone levels and behavior of the children before the intervention and then again after its conclusion as a means of assessing the success of the treatment.

It is Ellenbogen’s hope that by equipping all family members to deal appropriately with the added stresses brought on by one member’s bipolar disorder, the atmosphere of the home can take on a healthier and more positive tone. And when the stress inside the home goes down, hopefully the likelihood of children acting out sexually will also decrease.

Posted on September 5th, 2014
Posted in Mental Health

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