How Do I Prepare My Child for Life With Bipolar Disorder?

Dan Haupt, M.D. Health Guide
  • For many parents, the difficulties associated with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and the challenges associated with its treatment can be consuming. Finding a doctor can be difficult, let alone finding a board certified child psychiatrist. Many take limited or no insurance, preferring to avoid the hassles of reimbursement, but putting the burden of payment and insurance claims on the family.

    Treatment can be another dilemma, as parents struggle with the question of whether the benefits of medications outweigh the risks. Schools, friends, and family form another set of challenges that must be successfully addressed in order to help the child have a successful life. This, of course, is superimposed on the usual challenges of caring for a child from infancy through adolescence.
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    Given all these distractions, it is common for parents to put off worrying about how their child will cope with their illness once they reach adulthood. On the other hand, many parents are acutely aware of this issue and wonder how best to prepare their child.

    Preparing a child for a life with bipolar disorder begins with the series of visits that lead to the diagnosis. It is important that the child be made aware that caring for themselves is something that everyone has to do, and that it is important to seek treatment for health problems. As appropriate, it will be helpful to frame treatment as something the child is doing for him or herself, not something that is being done to them.

    As the child gets older, it will be important to make sure that they understand the need for continued treatment (assuming their symptoms are persistent into adulthood) and identification of a psychiatrist wherever they live.

    This is easy to say, but the reality is that it can be very difficult for young adults to continue treatment due to difficulties in finding psychiatrists in their area and paying for their care. It should be anticipated that it might take several months to get an initial evaluation from a new psychiatrist. This needs to be taken into account when relocating in order to avoid being in a new city without medication or a psychiatrist.

    Paying for care is another major issue for young adults as they make the transition from sharing coverage with their parents to having to obtain their own. This is a factor even if the child still lives with their parents. Out of pocket expenses are likely even when working at a job with health benefits while waiting to qualify for the benefits.

    Discussion of these realities should be part of the process of helping a child learn to live with mental illness, and will give them the best opportunity possible to lead a successful life.

Published On: May 21, 2007