After settling in with your child’s diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, another issue can quickly take center stage. Should the parents of the children your son or daughter socializes with be privy to this information? A serious consideration that should not be taken lightly, there are positives and negatives associated on both sides of this very important decision. I have experienced both the good and the bad that comes with disclosing this information.
Consider Your Child’s Right to Privacy
Although you are the parent, this is your child’s medical condition. Depending on his or her age and own acceptance of the situation, disclosing this information may feel like a violation of privacy to your son or daughter. He or she may take the stance that it is their decision on who should be apprised of the situation. If your bipolar child is of the age and mindset where an open conversation regarding the issue is possible, allow him or her to honestly express their feelings about allowing other parents to know before making a decision. Keep in mind that you will ultimately need to make the call, but considering the child’s feelings is very important. When my daughter was first diagnosed, she was quite dismayed when I told other parents about her condition. Though I explained what I felt were the benefits of full disclosure, she frequently felt a bit betrayed. Now that she is two years older, she completely understands why it is often appropriate to allow the parents of her friends to be made aware of the situation.
Disclosure May Prevent Issues in the Future
Bipolar children often have trouble making and keeping friends. Unfortunately it is a very common marker of the disease. The lack of empathy towards other’s feelings, explosive bouts of temper and seemingly disproportionate reactions to situations are often not conducive to long lasting friendships. Sharing your son or daughter’s diagnosis with other parents may help them to better understand the situation as issues arise. Previously misunderstood observations of interactions between the children may become crystal clear and help in clearing up conflicts more quickly going forward. It was a very unpleasant time in all of our lives when my daughter first began to exhibit symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. There were frequent conflicts with friends which caused issues between myself and the other parents. Those very unfamiliar with the manic side of the disorder suspected her of being under the influence of drugs. Once I explained the common behaviors of the disorder to several sets of parents, there were far fewer misunderstandings.
One of the drawbacks to making other parents aware of your child’s mental illness is that an unwarranted label may be slapped on the child. He or she may be seen as the troublemaker, bully or simply the catalyst for all future arguments and falling outs between the kids. Many parents prefer to blame all childhood trials and conflicts on “the other kid.” Combine that common attitude with a bipolar diagnosis and it may be a recipe for disaster. My family and I still struggle with this issue. Unfortunately, my daughter often bears the brunt of the blame if her group of friends make any missteps that are common during the teenage years. I have grown to accept that this is simply par for the course and there is little I can do about it.
Although this illness can be easily seen on a scan of the brain and is no different than any other organ that does not function as optimally as it should, there is a still a social stigma regarding mental illness. Being open and honest about your child’s condition with adults that he or she interacts with frequently goes a long way towards increasing awareness. Speaking in matter of fact terms with a lack of shame or embarrassment can help to spread the word that Bipolar Disorder is a common condition that can be managed through medication and behavior therapy. Not only will this discussion help to educate those who may be unfamiliar with the illness, it can be a great sign of solidarity with your child. I have had some parents in my daughter’s circle thank me for educating them on this disease. I have also had others who choose to believe that the diagnosis is simply an excuse for bad behavior. I choose to appreciate those who are open to be educated and ignore those who refuse to acknowledge that this is a true medical condition that greatly affects mood and behavior.