8 Things I Wish Parents Knew about Bipolar, Mental Illness

8 Things I Wish Parents Knew about Bipolar, Mental Illness

When you think about your history, what do you wish your (or other) parents knew about bipolar disorder or mental illness? My parents, like many people, knew nothing about bipolar disorder and this, undoubtedly, harmed me. Their lack of knowledge and lack of openness about their own mental health/illness history made my life and my bipolar journey much harder than it had to be. Here’s what I wish my parents, and other parents, knew about bipolar disorder and mental illness.

1. I Wish Parents Knew Mental Illness Is Real

I was raised to believe that mental illness, bipolar disorder, didn’t exist. I truly thought, thanks to how I was raised, that people who said they had depression were just weak people who couldn’t handle their own lives. I didn’t think depression was a real illness. But mental illness is real and I wish parents understood that.

2. I Wish Parents Knew that Children Get Mental Illnesses Too

Even for parents who recognize that mental illness is real, they may not recognize that mental illness happens in children, too. In fact, about 1% of adolescents and 0.2-0.4% of children have bipolar type one.

3. I Wish Parents Would Understand How Important It Is to Talk about Mental Illness

Now, given that my parents gave off the impression that mental illness didn’t exist it, obviously, wasn’t likely that they were about to talk about it; but I wish, when I was young, that my parents would have talked about mental illness or, at least, mental health. At least then I would have known not to hide signs of a mental illness and at least I would have known what could have been wrong and to get help when I needed it.

4. I Wish Parents Would Talk about Their Mental Illness Histories

parent teenNow, as it happens, my mother doesn’t have a history of mental illness in her family but my father sure does. Among other things, my father was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after he admitted himself into the hospital after, perhaps, what one might call a breakdown. He told no one of his bipolar diagnosis – not his wife and not his children — but I really wish he had of told me about that and other mental illness history in the family. It would have made diagnosing me 100 times easier and obvious. It would have saved me so much suffering with a misdiagnosis. No matter how embarrassed a parent may be about their, or another family member’s mental illness, it’s critical for a child to know their own mental health history as it’s just as critical as any other part of their health history.

5. I Wish Parents Knew How to Spot Bipolar or another Mental Illness in Their Child

If you were to ask my mother today, she will tell you that, even from a young age, my behavior was unusual and I appeared to have both hypomanias and depressions, even as a child. Of course, at the time she knew nothing about mental illness and had no idea what she was seeing but I really wish parents knew how to spot bipolar disorder in their child and didn’t let their fear that something might be wrong with their child stand in the way. That’s not fair for the child and deprives them of the help they need.

6. I Wish Parents Believed in Medical Help for the Brain

My mother was not anti-counselling but she was anti-doctor so while I did see therapists as a child, I never saw any medical professional who might be able to effectively diagnose a child with mental illness. She never, ever, believed in medical help for the brain — and a mental illness is just a disorder of the brain. And what we know, of course, is that the brain is just an organ and it can be sick just like any other and parents need to know that brains need medical help, too.

7. I Wish Parents Knew that a Mentally Ill Child is Not Their Fault

My parents would have seen a mentally ill child as a huge black spot in their lives and my mother, in particular, would have likely blamed herself if her child was “broken.” But bipolar disorder and mental illness is not generally caused by parenting – even poor parenting. You cannot blame the parents for the mental illness. You just can’t. (Yes, there are exceptions, such as in cases where parents traumatized the children and caused posttraumatic stress disorder, but that is certainly the exception.)

8. I Wish Parents Knew that Help Was Available, I Wish They Knew about the Right Help

And I wish, after seeing a hurting child, parents would know that medical help is available and that help does not come from a school counsellor. (School counsellors can be part of a treatment team but they can’t primarily help a child with a mental illness.) I wish parents knew they were not and should not be alone in the fight against mental illness, bipolar disorder.

What Parents Should Know about Bipolar and Mental Illness

Those are the top eight things that come to mind that I wish my parents had of known about bipolar disorder and mental illness, but there are oh-so-many more. What do you wish parents knew about bipolar disorder and mental illness?

If you’re a parent with a mentally ill child, please check out The Balanced Mind Parent Network for information and support.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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