Archive for Monday, March 12, 2012


Double Take: Teen worries mom is bipolar

March 12, 2012


Dear Dr. Wes and Miranda: Basically, I think my mom might be bipolar. She goes through these mood swings, VERY happy to VERY angry in a matter of minutes.

For example, me and my brother are supposed to do the dishes. Usually, we do them before Mom gets home so she won’t have to do anything after a long day at work. Sometimes, though, we forget. Those days she walks in the door all happy with us, then sees the dishes and you’d think it was the end of the world.

Originally, I attributed this to a recent divorce, but now it’s gotten a little worse, as she goes from being happy to very upset at the drop of a dime. I love my mom. She has been there for me through everything. I just want to know if she needs help or not, and there’s no way to ease into, “Hey, Mom, I think you might be bipolar and you might need help.”

Miranda: The other day my mom became very emotional when we started talking about graduation. This is normal in the sense that moms often have a difficult time letting go of their children. Realize that this is a touchy time for her, and you have to accept and acknowledge that you will have to tread lightly for a while.

Another really hard thing for a parent to go through is divorce. And when that parent is the one the kids primarily live with, that just adds more pressure.

I’m no professional, but if I had to guess, it seems like stress, not bipolar disorder, is the underlying issue. I know your mother’s behavior is frustrating, but try and keep some perspective, as she has a lot resting on her shoulders right now.

There’s also a strong parallel between being left in a marriage and being left by your children, as they’re moving out or at least getting close. Dealing with an onslaught of rejection can really hurt a person. Just a simple reminder that you and your brother will always be there for your mom may ease this.

That being said, you know your mom better than I do. If you honestly think she extends past this “line” of stress and into a disorder, then it’s time to seek the help of a professional. Sit down and talk with her one-on-one, but try not to mention the whole “bipolar” thing. Suggest that the three of you start attending family therapy of some sort. This has no doubt been building under the surface for a while, so expect a negative reaction at first. Stay calm, and help your mom though whatever she is going though.

Being supportive, loving and honest is what your mom needs right now.

Dr. Wes: Hard to improve on that advice. Miranda is correct. Many of your mom’s symptoms sound like stress, and I’m sure she has a lot to be concerned about these days.

While some folks are able to manage low-grade symptoms earlier in life, it’s likely that if she were actually bipolar that would have shown up prominently in her life before now. I don’t know how old your mom is, but she might also be having early symptoms of menopause, which might combine with the issues Miranda raises to change her mood stability.

But the real question before us is how do you intervene with your mom in a way that encourages her to hear what you’re saying and get this looked into, without becoming defensive. One thing I’ve learned is that no matter how much you show your concern and try to take care of other’s needs, if they can’t hear things in the way you intended, you’ll be misunderstood and probably vilified. That’s not where you want to end up with your mom right now.

Its hard to know how she’ll take the therapy suggestion, but you could tell her you’d like to go either as an individual to work on your own concerns, or if you think she’ll buy in, with her to work on your relationship. Most parents genuinely want to have a good relationship with their kids, and by asking to make some improvements together you’re making an offer she’ll have a hard time refusing.

Tell the therapist that you’re concerned about her moods, not because you want to get something out of the deal but because you genuinely love and care for your mom. Be sure she knows how much you want to support her after all she’s done to support you. Hopefully, if she sees you taking a selfless interest, she’ll be more able to listen, and the therapist can help figure out what’s difficult for her right now.

It’s always nice to get a letter from a caring daughter.


Jean Robart 6 years ago

Great answers. Bipolar is not angry to happy. It's depressed(sometimes very deeply depressed) to hypermania. If Mom came home and found the dishes not done, or the house untidy, and launched into a frenzied cleaning, I'd be more concerned. It might also be that she had a crummy day at work, or a frustrating drive home. I applaud the person making the inquiry for loving and caring for Mom so much.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years ago

What mommatocharlie just stated is so true. Anger is not a symptom of the bipolar syndrome at all.

In manic mode, a bipolar person will be very happy, that's a for sure. That can lead to problems, the foremost is making bad decisions, thinking that everything will surely be fine. A person in manic mode will be happy and cheery, greet you warmly, and talk way too fast.

And then, there's the depressive mode. When that happens, a very likely behavior is to go into a room to be alone in misery, and become unable to perform the basic functions of living. When in that mode, a bipolar person is in a survival mode - you hope.

In many cases, a bipolar individual will commit suicide while in a depressed state, and of course that is a very serious matter.

Something that many people don't seem to be aware of about the disorder is that the cycles can be of any length or duration. That is, a person can cycle several times a day, or only a few times a year.

Whenever the bipolar syndrome is suspected, professional help is definitely required. It often has a very high comorbidity with other problems, and only a psychiatrist can make that determination.

The reference manual that is used to make the diagnosis of the bipolar syndrome is the 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' (DSM IV), and I can assure you, it is certainly not written for the layman at all.

Simply becoming angry is in no case a symptom of the bipolar syndrome, although extreme anger at trivial things can be a symptom of other psychiatric problems.

But, from reading the article above, I don't think there are any mental issues involved.

Everyone has stressful events and periods in their life. Try to by sympathetic, and always be available to talk without making any judgements at all.

But, if someone does exhibit the symptoms of the bipolar syndrome, it's not nearly the problem that it used to be. But again, a psychiatrist will be required.

Robert Rauktis 6 years ago

That's what you need. Your teenager slotting you into some diagnosis they just learned to spell.

A recipe for a psychological yoke for a lifetime.

xyz 6 years ago

The kids need to remember that if it is their responsibility to do the dishes, then they need to make that a priority to get the task done each day. Since unwashed dishes are a trigger for your mom, step up to the plate (in this case, literally). Your actions will show your mom that you are responsible and helpful. Hang in there!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years ago

I think I know what would happen if these two young people had jobs in the real world and for reasons that were clear only to them, they did not do their assigned tasks.

They would be dismissed from their duties, and others that would be more helpful in the operation of the business would be quickly located.

Very few young people seem to realize that when their parents give them tasks to do on a regular basis, are trying to train them to be successful in the job market.

Ragingbear 6 years ago

Dear kid, It's not bipolar disorder. It's ADD, adult ADD. I have sent a package of ritalin, extra strength to your house. There are two prescriptions in the package. One is for you as well, as I believe you have ADD just from reading your letter. I would suggest taking 10-15 twice a day, but just take a lot of them.


Ron Holzwarth 6 years ago

Did you know that ADD does not appear in the current 'Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' (DSM IV)? It was in the DSM III, but now it's considered to be a subset of ADHD.

And, if you really did send them some ritalin, you're in big trouble if they catch you, because it's an FDA schedule 2 pharmaceutical.

Love your name, by the way!

Ron Holzwarth 6 years ago

Dr. Fraudshaw, all they really need is a good dose of DamnItAll.

Ragingbear 6 years ago

It's a commentary to a few years ago where the good doctor practically diagnosed and prescribed medication via a newspaper letter.

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