A child’s diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is often incredibly frightening for parents. The complexity of the symptoms as well as the basic lack of knowledge about the disease can cause confusion and anxiety about what the future holds. As scary as it can be for parents, that written diagnosis can be even more unsettling for the child’s siblings. Thankfully, there are several steps that can be taken to effectively deal with the negative emotions of the other children in the family.
Practice What You Preach
The siblings of the Bipolar child may experience feelings of shame and embarrassment towards their brother or sister. Mental illness is quite difficult for some adults to accept, never mind children. Never speak of your afflicted child in terms that indicate shame. Speak as plainly about the situation as possible without any judgment. If you treat the condition as you would any other that one has no control over, the other children in the family will likely project the same attitude. My younger daughter was only twelve when her sister was diagnosed. She had no prior experience with someone who suffered from a mental illness. Her knowledge of those types of conditions was gleaned from the images in movies and on television. It took some time and many discussions with her before she was able to understand that a disorder that originates in the brain should be considered no more shameful than one that occurs in other parts of the body.
Acknowledge Their Feelings
It will certainly take some time for the entire family to adjust to this turn of events. A Bipolar Disorder diagnosis affects each and every member of the family. Though the illness may have been suspected for some time, those words being recorded in a medical file often dramatically changes the family dynamic. Allow the siblings to settle in with the situation and encourage open family discussions. Correct any misinformation they may have, but let them know that their thoughts and feelings about the situation are valid and deserve to be heard. My youngest child and I have had countless discussions about her older sister’s disease. There were often tears and displays of frustration, but she was always made aware that her feelings were never wrong. They just needed to be worked through.
Consider Counseling If Necessary
The relationship between the afflicted child and his or her siblings has likely been altered long before the diagnosis. Common negative behaviors associated with the disease can adversely affect the relationship between siblings. If the other children in the family have already expressed resentment or fear towards the Bipolar child, professional guidance may be in order. The siblings may be in just as need of counseling as the child with the mental illness. A trained therapist or counselor with specific training in this field can do wonders in helping brothers and sisters more fully understand and accept the challenges their sibling faces on a daily basis. My younger daughter struggled with feelings of anger towards her older sister and feelings of protectiveness towards her father and I. She was often quite upset about the chaos inside our home and felt fearful towards her sister. I began to see symptoms of depression and anxiety in my formerly happy and peaceful child. Several sessions with her sister’s counselor helped her immensely. She was given much more information about the disease than I could provide and offered very practical suggestions on how to deal with situations as they arise.