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Helping Someone With Bipolar Disorder

Question:

My son suffers from Bipolar Disorder – we have had to have him put in the hospital 4 times so far because of his delusions and comments about suicide. Usually he is in the hospital approx 2 weeks. Once home he stops taking his medication, says he has no problem – that we are his problem. He gets jobs with temp agencies as he does x-rays in hospitals – the temp agencies provide him with rental cars and a place to stay. Basically he is able to work for several months and be normal and then usually around April or so he seems to start getting bad and is not able to work. My question – if he gets bad again, I pray he does not, but if he does – how do we help him – is it better to get help for him so that he can blame us for everything and refuse medication once he is home, or should we do nothing for awhile and let him wander around somewhere? Either way, I don’t know what to do – what is your advice?

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  • Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
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Answer:

This aspect of mental illness is one of the most painful ones around. As parents you naturally want to protect and help your son. However, your son’s refusal to sustain treatment makes this very difficult if not impossible for you to accomplish. Given your son’s employment as an x-ray technician, I’m guessing that he is a legal adult – a situation that makes helping him even more frustrating. At least in the USA – a minor child can be ‘forced’ (forgive the word) into the help he or she needs by parents – but not a legal adult. While it is generally a good thing that seriously mentally ill persons are not chronically institutionalized anymore (from a civil rights perspective) – it is not such a good thing when a seriously mentally ill person who is sometimes able to live independently and sometimes not has a psychotic or manic episode and no structured environments are immediately available to help them out. In this situation the parents and family members are forced to carry the burden by virtue of their love and fear for the safety of their own. It seems quite likely that your son will get ‘bad’ again if he is not maintaining his treatment. Be prepared for this event. A few thoughts for what they are worth. 1. Ask your son if he’ll grant you permission to speak with his doctor. This will require his signing a legal document to grant you this permission. With this in place, you may have better access, advice, and information concerning his care. 2. Find a support group in your city or on the internet of other family members of mentally ill children. You are not alone in your fears and anxieties. 3. Also – recognize what you can and cannot accomplish with regards to taking care of your son. If you cannot handle his episodes – if they take you apart too much – (and it is okay to admit if this is the case because it happens) then make the decision to protect yourself by setting limits with how much you will attempt to care for him. You cannot force your son to take care of himself but you can make sure you take care of yourself. You might seek the support of a counselor or therapist as well to help you in this process. Sorry I don’t have any better solutions to share – Dr. Dombeck

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