Q: Being Raised by a Bipolar Parent
My husband is a functional bipolar individual. Holds a good job. He was just
diagonsed in 10/2004. We are in the midst of a divorce and the court
appointed child psychologist indicates that my husband should have
no overnights with my kids until the youngest turns 2 in a couple of
months. My other child is 3.5 yo. Once my youngest child turns 2 then
every other weekend from 11a on Sat to 7P on Sunday with no
overnights during the week. The judge is currently giving my husband every
Wednesday and every other weekend from Friday-Monday. The child
psychologist testified for ~40 minutes on his recommendation. I have
never done drugs. I may have 6 alcoholic drinks in a year. I have a good
job. Educated. Bottom line an overall good person.
My husband will only release his diagnosis and that he is under the care a
psychiatrist and that he is in compliance.
I don't feel that my kids are safe with any bipolar person for extended
times regardless of whether it is there father or not. This same judge has
given another bipolar father full custody of his kids-I do not know the
circumstances of the mother.
Please help if you can. Is it safe of a bipolar parent to be raising 2 very
Dear Ms. S' --
May I request at the outset that my reply not be used in any court proceeding,
as I am not a legally-oriented ("forensic") psychiatrist and could mislead the
court with my answer. I am answering as a volunteer psychiatrist for
BipolarWorld.net, and my reason for answering is to see if I can be of some help
to you, by presenting as straightforward an answer to your question as possible.
aspects of your question are deeply involved in your divorce proceedings, it
appears. Sorting out what you want to know that is
separate from the divorce issues
is tricky, but I think we could tackle this issue you pose:
I don't feel that my kids are safe with any bipolar person for extended times
regardless of whether it is there father or not.
concerned, in general, about your children’s safety is entirely understandable
and expectable. But I think you might have a conception of bipolar disorder
which is not accurate.
If you were
to post this on a bipolar website where people with bipolar disorder I think
you’d get some angry mail. But it might be good for you to hear their thoughts;
so I’m going to put them in non-angry terms here, in the hopes that you might be
able to “hear” me more than you might them, through their anger. However, one of
the reasons I asked to put this on BipolarWorld is so that people would have the
chance to respond if they wished, and you could read what they say without
having it directed straight at you.
bipolar disorder: that’s the politically correct way to say “bipolar person”,
for your information; but it’s a useful way to remind oneself, every time it
comes out of one’s mouth or writing, that people
have bipolar disorder, just as they
have heart disease; they are not “cardiac cases”, that is, they are not defined
by their illness. They are people, people who have an illness.
disorder is a treatable illness, just like heart disease. It’s possible for
people who have heart disease to live normal lives; likewise it’s possible for
people with bipolar disorder to lead normal lives. It all depends on the success
of treatment (which depends on a lot of factors; a person’s efforts to
make treatment work definitely play
a role here).
So it is
entirely possible that your children would be completely safe with their father.
Indeed, we know that for most kids, not
being with their parent has some potential to be damaging. I think most people
with bipolar disorder would want the assumption to be that if their treatment is
working properly, if their illness is well-controlled, if they have demonstrated
a vigilance about their symptoms and a close relationship with their treatment
providers (e.g. a doctor and/or a therapist with bipolar experience) that they
be handled in a divorce proceeding just as though they did not have bipolar
all the “if’s” in that sentence. I would hope that your husband would take it
upon himself to provide evidence supporting all these if’s, knowing that a
reasonable person would expect such reassurance to insure the children’s safety.
A person with manic or depressive symptoms is not necessarily dangerous to
children, mind you; but some such symptoms could pose
some risk. It’s hard to take care of
oneself, let alone others, when severely depressed, for example; conversely,
manic symptoms include difficulty assessing risk, such as how fast one should
most people with bipolar disorder would acknowledge that unchecked manic
symptoms should be a basis for concern for children’s safety, though this may
still be roughly in the same ballpark, for many people with bipolar disorder
anyway, as the risk to the children of weathering a contentious divorce and
enduring the aftermath thereof. In other words, in general I’d be equally
worried about protecting the children from awful divorce proceedings as I would
about a person with bipolar disorder’s capacity to parent, especially if
historically her/his bipolar disorder was well controlled and she/he had a good
working relationship with the doctor or therapist involved.
the delay in replying to your question. I hope this may prove useful to you and
your family in some way.
this reply, and your original question, minus your name and email address, to
BipolarWorld.net for posting. If you’re interested, you can inquire there about
any feedback that came in about this. I could be wrong, for example; someone
might post a very different view more supportive of your original concern.]
Published April, 2006