Emotional Support and Involvement
A healthy family environment is important in the recovery process for bipolar patients. Unfortunately, bipolar families more often face family financial difficulties, impairment in marital and parenting roles, and restrictions in social and leisure activities (Fiorillo et al., 2015, p. 292). Fredman et al (2015) followed 108 patients and their relatives for two years. While emotional involvement was found to provide productive support, it was found that intrusive and overprotective behavior, exaggerated emotional responses, and excessive self-sacrificing can be damaging to the patient’s well-being (Fredman et al., 2015, p. 81). Fredman et al (2015) found that these types of overinvolved behaviors were associated with an increase in manic episodes. They also found that appropriate supportive behaviors improved depressive behavior. In other words, appropriate involvement helped with depression, but over-involvement worsened manic symptoms. Excessive self-sacrifice, which is giving up excessive time, effort, and activities in order to take care of the bipolar disordered relative tended to be detrimental to the family relationship and tended to interfere with recovery from bipolar episodes.
Bipolar disorder can distress marital relationships. Presence of a mood disorder is linked to martial distress, decreasing marital satisfaction over time, an increased risk of divorce, and a shorter marriage duration”(Sherman et al., 2015, p.2). With bipolar disorder, lower social support is correlated with more frequent depressive episodes and with longer recovery from depressive episodes. Quality of the marital relationship and perceived availability were associated with frequency of relapse of depressive episodes.
Children of bipolar parents
Parental mood disorders can impact on parenting, childrearing, response to parent-child conflicts, and on the quality of parent-child relationships. Parents with bipolar disorder have reported more negative interactions with their children, likely contributing to risk of children developing psychosocial or behavioral problems. Some studies have found maternal bipolar disorder (with a a 12-month prevalence of 1.6%) can have a greater impact on children than paternal bipolar disorder (Peay, Rosenstein, and Biesecker, 2014; Freed et al., 2015). It was suggested that bipolar mothers may experience more stress in balancing roles and expectations with coping with their own mental illness. They may experience guilt about perceived or actual parenting failures, and often experience fear and worry of genetic risks of their children developing bipolar disorder (Peay, Rosenstein, and Biesecker, 2014).
Child age and gender also interact with family conflict as moderators to children's vulnerability to parental bipolar disorder. This magnifies young children's sense of distress and helplessness. Female children, who may be more sensitive to interpersonal stress have been found to be more affected by family struggles than boys (Freed et al., 2015, p. 109) but boys are also vulnerable to family issues and violence when exposed to at a young age.
Younger children have less developed coping strategies and cognitive schemes to deal with family conflict. Higher frequency of family negative interactions, miscommunication, and less cohesion likely raises child anxiety and fears that what they might say or do could trigger dreaded manic or depressive reactions or episodes. This can lead to inhibitions in communication about a child's own fears, conflicts or needs, and inhibit open and honest communication by the child to the parent. Since security and predictability are often critical to trust and a sense of attachment, this can contribute to a sense of detachment or alienation in a child or teenager. This can become all the more complicated when there are both parent(s) and children in a family which have bipolar disorder. Child and adolescent mood or bipolar disorders can be a core cause of family stress (Freed et al., 2015).
A study by Muralidharan et al (2015) found young adults with bipolar disorder were “more vulnerable to emotional and cognitive responses to failure feedback. They displayed higher levels of self-criticism following failure feedback (p.397). There was an increase in negative affect in bipolar children after receiving criticism by their parents. Thus, a loop of criticism and negative affect partially fueled by parental mood disorder can exacerbate negative affect in children with mood disorder, escalating family conflict and family negative interactions. This may ultimately contribute to more depressive or manic relapse episodes.
Healthy awareness and monitoring of children’s mental health was found to help bipolar parents feel less worried about risk of their child's risk of developing mood disorder and had a positive on perceived control (Peay, Rosenstein, and Biesecker, 2014, p. 198) . Learning and employing active coping strategies assists reducing guilt and worry and contribute to more positive family affect and communication, possibly reducing risk factors for relapse.Some active coping themes include:
· Watchful awareness of the child’s psychological state and moods
· Talking to the child about their moods
· Making changes to the child’s environment
· Maintaining open communication about mood disorders and the parent’s own illness
· Being empathetic about the child’s moods and experiences
· Seeking professional help and/or planning when to seek help
· Teaching the child positive life lessons
According to Fiorillo et al (2015), “living in a dysfunctional family is associated with more frequent relapses and hospitalizations, lack of compliance, and a worse social functioning” (p. 292). Multifamily group therapy (MFG), family-focused therapy (FFT), and couples therapy represent treatment approaches to target such dysfunctional family or marital interactions. Multimodal approaches may be required. Couples therapy and FFT have been shown to result in fewer relapses, longer intervals between relapses, better communication and problem-solving skills, more social support, and better overall quality of life for couples experiencing marital distress and low perceived social support.
For families who are excessively supportive and overly protective, FFT with psychoeducation has been effective in improving family functioning. This intervention includes“individual and family assessment, psychoeducation on the characteristics and treatment of bipolar disorder, early warning signs, management of suicidal behaviors, and instruction on communication and problem-solving skills, and booster sessions” (Fiorillo et al., 2015, p. 293). This approach teaches families to spot cues that may trigger or be associated with a manic or depressive episode and teaches appropriate responses (Freed et al., 2015, p. 144). When overinvolved family members relinquish appropriate responsibility to the bipolar family member, caregiver burden is reduced and the relationship often improves.
The above demonstrates the importance of evaluating the family environment and designing appropriate interventions. Peay, Rosenstein, and Biesecker (2014) suggest moving away from putting blame on parents with disorders to adopting treatment approaches which strengthen parenting and martial and family coping strategies.
High levels of disability and family instability (Fiorillo et al., 2014, p. 297) are important obstacle for families who have members with bipolar to overcome. Family functioning can be affected directly by symptoms and episodes of the disorder itself, but also by family conflict, lack of support, excessive support or codependency, and by family communication problems. Poor family functioning in families with a bipolar parent has a detrimental influence on children's psychosocial adjustment, but findings demonstrate positive family factors can exert protective effects” (Freed et al., 2015, p. 109). It is important to conduct assessment of family functioning and consider interventions and education to encourage the family and individual recovery process.
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Submitted July 20, 2015, published November 2015 Ernest J. Bordini, Ph.D., editor
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