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Dear Darcy: Darcy helps worried mom with bipolar daughter

Dear Darcy: Dealing with Family Relationships

Dear Darcy: Darcy helps worried mom with bipolar daughter

Dear Darcy,
My 18 year old daughter was just diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder.  It comes as a relief since we’ve been struggling with problem behaviors most of her teen life.  She goes from feeling so low and depressed to being on top of the world.  When she’s “On Top of the World”, she does risky things like has multiple sexual partners, shoplifts and parties all the time.  Sometimes, she will be gone for days.  She is graduating high school this year and is living at home with us, but we are scared for her safety and future.  Any suggestions as to how my husband and I can help her?
Sincerely,
Worried Mom
Vero Beach, Florida

Dear Worried Mom,
I know it is hard to watch your young adult daughter make decisions that are risky and could cause great harm if she is unlucky.  Between her developmental stage and her psychiatric diagnosis of Bi-Polar, she is no doubt having a difficult time.  According to Psychologist Eric Erickson, she is currently at the end of the Identity Vs. Role Confusion stage (Adolescence) and entering the Intimacy Vs. Isolation stage (young adulthood).   In the Adolescence Stage, individuals are becoming more independent, considering who they will become in the future, and trying out different roles.  Failure to identify where one fits in can cause identity issues and ultimately can lead to youth experiencing a variety of risky endeavors.  As they enter the next state, relationships with partners and community become increasingly important.  If one develops successfully it leads to experiencing the virtue of love and can result in marriage, children and building a family.  If the virtue of love is not developed during this stage, isolation, loneliness and sometimes depression can result.  Add bi-polar disorder to the natural developmental process and, there is a lot to worry about.
Currently there are over 2.5 million adults diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and likely many more thousands living undiagnosed.  Bi-polar is a biological disease and it is believed by researchers that genetic, neurochemical and environmental factors play a role in the onset and progression of bipolar disorder (also known as manic depressive disorder because of the mood shifts from depression to euphoria).
Now that I’ve given you a little science as to what is going on with your daughter, here is my practical advice as to what a parent with a bipolar adult child might do to help:
In addition to medical compliance, I urge you to help her get therapy from a licensed clinician whom is well trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  CBT is a highly effective model of therapy in treating bi-polar.  In addition, I recommend the entire family become well educated on the disorder from how and where it comes from, to it’s symptoms, as well as support groups and treatment approaches.  Your daughter’s therapist would be the best person to educate her about the risks of her risky behaviors and to help her identify when her impulses are due to her condition or typical urges for her age.
Of course, there is the normal parenting that must continue regardless of medical condition (which btw, bipolar disorder is a medical issue in my opinion) and in spite of her developmental progress/stage.  Expectations must be defined, and your young adult must be held accountable.  Working with a professional yourself can help you to define what is appropriate and reasonable for your adult child and also empower you to enforce consequence when needed.  The fact she is still living with you and is financially dependent on you, gives you authority to continue to have reasonable expectations regarding her decisions in your home.  Working with a professional therapist can be very helpful particularly when there are difficult boundaries to enforce.  Also, a professional can help you decipher between your daughters mood disorder and/or typical behavior.
I realize this hasn’t been an easy road nor will it be for quite some time.  I’m hoping my response might point you and your family on an easier path to travel.
With Love,
Darcy

For more on Darcy and our Dear Darcy Advice Column

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