How to help worried father?

Q: My boyfriends 17 year old daughter was just diagnosed bipolar earlier this week. We know her maternal grandfather was also manic-deprresive. Earlier this month we discovered she was cutting herself (arms and thighs). She is now seeing a psychologist as well as a pychiatrist (3 weeks)there has been several medication changes, and all day yesterday, talk about suicide. I'm trying to learn as much as I can. I need to know how to support my boyfriend through this, he is very involved, has taken a leave of absence from work so that he can be home with her during the day(his ex-wife is a dentist with a private practice). When he comes home evenings, he's just beside himself, how can I help.

Dear Laurie --
1.  Hear him out, as much as you yourself can stand.  That's about 80% of what a good therapist does, just sit there and listen really well (which means making sure it's clear to him you're listening, which most people do pretty naturally if they care). 

2.  Keep helping him do homework, as you're doing here.  Check for example to see that the daughter's therapist and psychiatrist know about the suicidal thoughts and have considered hospitalization and have given him some good reasons why that's not the right thing to do (about which they could be right, depending on the circumstances). 

3. Read the bipolar site for significant others, which you by extension certainly are: www.bpso.org.

Dr. Phelps


Published February, 2001