Dealing With the Unexpected: Mental Health Hospitalization and Your Child

**Note: I am discussing children under the age of 18 in this post, not referring to adult children.**

Parenting is full of the unexpected: broken bones, bad grades, moving, breakups and more.

The life of a parent with a child with a mental illness is a bit more complicated. Watching for signs of self-injury, a meltdown that may require help from professionals, not knowing if your child will be “okay” the next day… it can be exhausting.

There is a point in which some of these parents have to make a decision to place their child in a mental health facility, for emergency short-term treatment or possibly long-term treatment. It’s heartbreaking and most don’t really want to. (Some do but that’s a whole different topic that I am not covering because it angers me so much. It would be more of a rant post.)

Thoughts From The Other Side

I’ve watched parents sign the paperwork in admitting while sobbing because they felt like they failed as a parent. Sometimes it’s the last option before something tragic happens to either the child, them and/or someone else, so no, it’s not exactly a failure as a parent. There is a point in which it is a parent issue that they just don’t want to face, but I digress. Those are the parents I’ve seen sign papers and walk out of the building without a second thought.

Some kids come in quietly, some fight the whole process from admitting to the unit. That is not pretty or fun for those involved in the physical managements. Kids don’t always understand why they are in these facilities. Parents are usually able to bring their children in, but some are brought in by ambulance due to the situation they are coming from. They might be coming from another facility, juvenile detention center or hospital.

Many of the kids I worked with stayed long term because of their complex issues- varying from mild to severe autism and other developmental disabilities. Before I went to that unit, I worked with kids with emotional and behavioral issues, so some of them had already been to foster care, juvenile detention, and other placements. The decision to come to this facility had been made for them, of course, based on several factors.

I met these kids after suicide attempts, crimes, fights and all sorts of things that you probably don’t want to think of, but yet, they still kept going, even on days that they just wanted to give up and shut down. We wouldn’t let that happen- thanks to a team of psychiatrists, nurses and of course, the mental health associates that the facility couldn’t function without.

If you’re super curious about what that job is like (it was literally the best job I’ve ever had and I still haven’t found another one I have liked nearly as much), please read Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

There are some tips I will share if you ever have to take this step with your child:

  • Please label your child’s clothing and other belongings with their initials with a permanent marker. The staff will wash clothes at least every other day and this helps a ton. Laundry is usually done at night (kids are sleeping and there is more time) and it’s easier to sort if you know what clothes belong to who.
  • Psych nurses are angels.
  • Mental health associates, for the most part, have bachelor’s degrees, or some college hours, so please remember that when interacting with them. I have one and so did all of my co-workers, we were required. Many family members didn’t treat us as such, but please respect us for our work. It’s hard.
  • Please remember that the admissions office can only move so fast and that getting mad at the staff doesn’t help things, it just slows them down. There’s a lot that goes on in the background that you can’t see before your child goes to a unit/floor. It’s similar to a hospital.
  • We don’t control the food that is made in the cafeteria.
  • If you can, PLEASE make a list of likes/dislikes because this saves time and trials for everyone involved with your child. It helps even more if your child is non-verbal.
  • You are not a terrible parent for admitting your child and do not be ashamed. There are groups you can reach out to. Please ask for support for yourself when your child is admitted or ask their social worker/case manager. That’s what they are there for.
  • If your child has to be physically managed, please realize we don’t enjoy it. I absolutely hated having to be in managements. I can’t think of anyone who liked them. It is only allowed by a doctor’s order and has a ton of regulations and requirements behind them.

If you have questions or thoughts you want to get into, please email me! I’d love to discuss.

How Did We Get to This Point?

Everyone’s situation is different- I’ll just point this out before I get deep into the topic.

I’ve never had to think of hospitalizing Julian, thankfully. I can’t imagine a point in which he would need it. His meds are stable and his aggression levels went down a long time ago. I can’t remember the last time he got mad and turned a chair over.

Obviously, I’m going to recommend calling 911 immediately if things are life-threatening (someone has a weapon, actively hurting themselves, etc). There are some things that you can’t just wait in the ER for.

Otherwise, it may be a good idea to call your child’s mental health provider and/or go to an ER if:

  • Hallucinations/delusions
  • Extreme aggression/destruction
  • Extreme alcohol and/or drug use
  • Not eating/sleeping for a certain amount of time
  • Severe psychiatric symptoms that have not responded to outpatient treatment
  • Other issues that may be seen in your child that are more extreme than usual- self-injury, anxiety, etc.

Some of these may be bad reactions to medication, but it is still better to be checked out. I worked with a child that had hallucinations for two days before his mother took him to the ER. Turns out it was a bad reaction to his new anti-psychotic. He was taken off it immediately, then stayed a few days inpatient to stabilize on new medications.

The Hospitalization Process

Depending on the facility and many other factors, you and your child may have to wait a long time in the waiting room (also called admitting, if you’re at a private facility). You will have to stay with your child the whole time- filling out paperwork, dealing with insurance, and arranging the actual admission.

If you are in a hospital ER and your child is transferred, they will be taken by ambulance and you can follow or ride with them. Once your child is admitted, you will be given all the information you need on contacting your child. You will also be given a list on what your child can and cannot have, and believe me- if you try to give something to your child that is on the “Cannot have” list, it’s not getting to them. This is for your child’s safety, especially if your child has been hospitalized for suicide/self-harm reasons.

Shortly after admission (or in the morning, depending on the time), your child will be assigned a case manager/social worker. These people are fantastic and will do their best to help your child- contacting providers, making a discharge plan, among other tasks. This is the main contact person for you to contact about your child’s care. You can also talk to your child’s nurse.

Your child may or may not attend school while they are hospitalized- this depends on the length of their stay. Many private facilities have a school on the property. The facility I worked for had a K-12 school in the building and every child went throughout the school year, and a bit over the summer. If your child is there for a short stay, they may not attend. You may be asked to sign paperwork to allow for school records to be sent to the facility so your child can attend- they can’t go without it.

A treatment team consists of nurses, a psychiatrist, other staff and the social worker. They meet daily to talk about the progress of the patients on a unit, including your child. If your child needs something like medication changes, diet changes, etc., it’s discussed in this meeting.

Most parents feel guilty, relief, anxiety, sadness and maybe a mix of all these emotions while their child is hospitalized. This is okay. A mental health facility can be a bit intimidating, no matter how welcoming the staff is. Just remember that you can call at any time to check on your child, that you can visit and to take care of yourself. This is important. If you need help with other children and/or other tasks, ask for it. This is a rough time for the whole family.

The Path to Home

It may sound a little weird, but hospitals are required to start working on a discharge plan almost as soon as a patient is admitted. (I don’t run these places, I just worked in them.)

The planning includes information on medication, mental health treatment, placement (if needed), education, housing (if needed). You have to be a part of this process. If you think your child isn’t ready to be discharged, you can talk to the hospital’s complaint department.

When picking your child up, keep in mind that they have just been through a huge transition, whether this is their first or fifth time in treatment. Keep the first couple of days low-key so they can adjust to being home, in a quieter environment. Make appointments if needed and slowly adjust them back to the daily routine.

If you have questions, you can call the social worker that worked with your child and go from there. Don’t think you have to go at things alone.

Parenting can be a tough path- seek out help when you need it, support is always out there. Resources

Information courtesy of MD Coalition

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

5 Facts About SVT

Parenting is challenging. Sometimes we are given those challenges out of nowhere. Cameron has been my “easiest” kid so far but yet gave us the biggest scare.

A Bit Of Background

Cameron was diagnosed with SVT in June 2015. This was discussed a bit in The Hardest Parts of Parenting

His diagnosis came after a game of basketball that led to an ER trip and scaring everyone in his elementary school in the process. Heart issues are very common in both Matthew and my families.

Cameron has been back to the hospital a few times since, due to more (smaller) episodes and for a small procedure to stop the episodes in 2017.

Due to some small episodes, he has had to be on a heart monitor for a month twice. I yelled at different customer service people over shipping complications with the stickers both times.

Mama Bear does make appearances from time to time, everyone. I try to be a nice person but when you mess with my son’s health…

Luckily, we live near a hospital that is amazing and Cameron has a cardiologist that spent his many years in school learning how to take care of kid-sized hearts.

The monitor came off both times without any issues being noted. He only goes back if anything comes up and as of yet, nothing. I will karate chop anyone, however, that even thinks of giving him anything caffeinated.

This includes energy drinks- no Monster drinks at this house. He currently takes two medications for migraines. One helps with his heart, so we consider it a two-for-one. The other is just for migraines.

Hospital pic

What IS SVT? Five facts

The last time I talked about this, I either said to Google it (because Google knows all) or I left a link, but this time, I’ll educate.

I decided on this because one of my greatest nightmares with Cameron is him collapsing during a basketball game and dying like I’ve seen numerous times on the news.

Most kids that die in that way during a sports game had a previously undiagnosed heart condition- either Long QT syndrome or sometimes SVT. Please bear with me, everyone, I’m not a cardiologist.

  1. SVT is an abbreviation for supraventricular tachycardia

This means that the electrical system in your heart works incorrectly, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and in some cases, loss of consciousness. In Cameron’s case, he passed out in his first episode because his blood pressure dropped. His school immediately called me and an ambulance.

I couldn’t make it to the school in time, so the principal rode to the hospital with him, where I met them. In his second and more severe episode, he didn’t pass out, but he couldn’t walk and I had to get a wheelchair because I couldn’t carry his 12-year-old self in. I did make him stay awake in the car. He was in the hospital for four days that time.

The last few episodes weren’t as serious- but still not fun.

2. SVT can happen at any time, but episodes can happen years apart or never again.

I didn’t like hearing this part at all. It scared the hell out of me. I was afraid to let Cameron do anything for a while after his diagnosis because I was scared it might trigger an episode but he’s got to live his life, right?

He went from June 2015 to March 2017 between episodes before his procedure. That’s not bad. He’s had a few small ones since the procedure but nothing that required hospitalization.

3. There are some known triggers, but then it can also happen while you’re doing nothing or can wake you up from sleep.

Cameron has had smaller episodes during migraines, which is why he is now on medication for both.

He is also not allowed to drink caffeine except for small amounts if he needs it during a migraine, and he stays well hydrated during the summer. That seemed to trigger both episodes. The last episode was triggered by Ultimate Frisbee in gym class and I think he may have been overheated.

4. SVT can stop on its own sometimes requires action to slow the heart rate.

During one of Cameron’s episodes, his heart rate was well over 200 and I was petrified. I had to stand in the hallway, peeking through the curtain as the nurses and doctors worked on him.

There are small maneuvers that you can do on your own, like blowing through a straw or blowing on your thumb, but sometimes those aren’t effective. In the ER, most patients are given medications through IV.

Cameron had to be given medication three times before being transferred to a downtown hospital, where he was in the ICU for three days before spending a fourth in a regular room.

5. There is a procedure that can stop SVT.

Cameron was eligible for an ablation. His two episodes were severe enough that his cardiologist suggested it as soon as he went into the ICU. Cameron was awake but sedated, and his cardiologist went into his heart, found the tissue that was causing the bad heartbeat and burnt it.

Cameron stayed overnight and was home the next day. He missed a couple of weeks of gym class, but I don’t think he minded that very much. It has a high success rate, but Matthew and I were both very scared something would go bad.

I mean, it is small heart surgery. It went well, and Cameron is an active kid. He can play all the basketball he wants.

SVT can be a scary condition. I still worry when Cameron is outside playing with his friends or at school- his school is well informed. He knows what to do if his chest starts hurting and so does everyone that he spends time with. If you want more information on this condition please go here.

LGBTQ Kids: A Guide

Parenting is full of challenges. We face them everyday- food allergies, mental and/or physical disabilities, bullying, and the list goes on.

There’s a point in life in which our kids decide to date and none of us are ever ready for that- it freaks us out. This happens as early as 12 or 13 or can be years later.

Most of us don’t blink an eye at who they will date, because we just assume they will date someone of the opposite sex, right?

What Happens When They Don’t?

I’ve already thought this one out. I don’t care. As long as my kids find someone that loves and supports them, I honestly don’t care who they date. Race isn’t an issue for obvious reason, and that’s not the topic of the post.

I just want my kids to be happy with whoever they love. That’s it. If Lily brings home a girl and they get married, then I get to watch them say yes to the dress or whatever they wear.

Lgbt flag, kids, parenting

Being a teen is hard enough as it is today. There’s so much pressure to get great grades, fit in, get into a good college, work, and so on.

When you’re a 16 year old girl who likes other girls, it gets a bit harder to be “normal”. You wonder if others would still like you, even your own family. You grew up hearing slurs about homosexuals and you know it’s not going to be great if you tell your parents.

Then there’s the boys who want to date you and you know they won’t stay away forever. All you want is to find a girl that likes you and that you like back, but how does that work? It’s confusing and scary. Bullying is a thing, and LGBTQ teens have it harder.

Stats hrc.org, kids, LGBTQ

Coming out is scary. It’s rough. The average age is 17, much younger than it used to be according to a British study found on Everyday Feminism

Teens are smart- they know the risks of telling their families something this big. Some families are accepting, and some families are ready to kick their kids right out of the house, which is a shame.

It’s heartbreaking to know that some kids feel they have to hide this part of themselves, because it can lead to drug and/or substance abuse issues, along with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety. A kid can only mask so much for so long. It does get better, time goes by, people do open their minds to new things.

Sometimes the people they think will have horrible reactions will have the opposite reaction. The negative messages are also an issue- they can send a message that a kid is a bad person, or is “going to hell”, etc. This can just add to already negative thoughts that a kid can have about themselves.

It gets better when LGBTQ kids find others like them- online, in school, through other friends, in other ways. It does help that many LGBTQ kids are out to their friends and classmates. Those friends and classmates, for the most part, are accepting, and can be a great source of support.

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What Can Parents Do?

  • Let them know you love them. I’m pretty sure this is the biggest part of accepting your child, no matter what. They need to know this. The scariest thing to many LGBTQ kids is coming out. Once they know they have parental support, there is a huge sense of relief. Be as open minded and present as you can be, even if you aren’t quite sure what to do.
  • Research. Parenting requires a lot of thinking and reading. We don’t always know what to do. That’s why the Internet exists. There are quite a few websites for parents of LGBTQ kids, including Hopkins Medicine
  • Talk about it. This doesn’t mean hound about their sex life, because that’s definitely awkward for everyone involved, but let them know you are there when they need you, if they have questions, etc.
  • Remember this is not a “phase”, there is no “cure”, and there is nobody to “blame”.
  • Watch out for bullying at school. It’s a reality that LGBTQ kids are bullied at school and other places. If you need to, get involved with the school. You can read Bullying: A Closer Look for more ideas and resources.
  • Talk to someone if you feel overwhelmed.

Female couple, acceptance

The world of teenage dating can get pretty complicated, this is just a different road. It’s possible to walk together with your child. Cheer them on!

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Statistics pics courtesy of hrc.org

Info can be found on:

Everyday Feminism

Hopkins Medicine

Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and stay at home mom, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What? This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like. I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it. Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure. My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

Essential Facts to Know About Bipolar Disorder

**Trigger warning: this post discusses mania, depression, suicide and other topics that may upset those who have lived experience. Please read with caution.**

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health illness. It affects millions of people (2.6% of the American population), but yet, you may not see the signs for a long time. I have friends that live with this illness and while they do struggle, they also have great days, weeks and even months between episodes.

It hurts my heart when they are not doing so well, but all I can do is support them if they want it. The disorder and its many presentations differ among people, even among episodes. One episode can be a mixed episode, the next can be full-on depression. There is no way of knowing, even if there is a known pattern of episodes.

There are facts that can expand your knowledge of and help someone you know that has bipolar disorder.

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More Than Mood Swings

Almost everyone has mood swings- some days we are happy, some we are sad. In the case of bipolar disorder, these changes affect a person’s ability to function in daily life- work, relationships, school, etc. These changes include mania (“highs”) and depression (“lows”). Suicide attempts are common in those with bipolar disorder, especially during a depressive episode. The risk is even higher when there is a history of previous attempts.

Bipolar disorder can be treated with therapy and medication. Some have issues staying compliant with their medications because of side effects and/or once they feel better, they don’t see the need for medications.

It is vitally important that once medications are started to stay on them unless otherwise directed by the prescribing physician. Many people with this disorder can live full, productive lives. Most people see their first episode between their late teen years and mid-20’s.

What does mania look like?

  • Feelings of euphoria and elation, in some people- this can come out as irritability or anger
  • Impulsive, high-risk behaviors- this varies among people, but this can include spending sprees, sexual promiscuity, daredevil-like behaviors, and drug and/or alcohol abuse.
  • increased energy, rapid speech
  • decreased sleep and appetite
  • disorganized thoughts and difficulty concentrating

What does depression look like?

  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Inability to sleep/sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in regularly liked activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness/guilt
  • Changes in appetite, weight, or appearance

Causes, Types and Risk Factors

There isn’t a single cause for bipolar disorder, but there are multiple contributing factors.

Genetics- This disorder tends to run in families. Please read Mental Health and Genetics: The Main Connections for more information on how genetics play a role in certain mental health illnesses. Scientists are working on finding abnormalities in specific genes in this case.

Biological- Researchers believe that some neurotransmitters don’t work correctly in the brains of those with bipolar disorder.

Environmental- Outside factors, like a major life change, may trigger a biological reaction or genetic predisposition. It’s hard to know for sure, but it is seen as a possibility.

The Different Types of Bipolar Disorder:

  • Bipolar I: An individual has both manic and depressive episodes of different lengths.
  • Bipolar II: Less severe manic episodes than Bipolar I, but the depressive episodes are the same.
  • Rapid-cycling: experiencing four or more episodes of mania, depression or both within one year
  • Mixed episodes: Mania and depression occur at the same time. This means someone can feel hopeless but yet energetic enough to do risky things.

Risk Factors:

  • A family history of bipolar disorder or other psychological disorders
  • Alcohol and/or substance abuse
  • Major life changes
  • Stress
  • Medication interactions- for example, some antidepressants can induce mania.

Angry cat

Knowing When to Get Help

When someone you care about seems a bit “off” for a period of more than a few days, it may be time to get them to go to a mental health facility, therapist or other assistance. The concern can be sudden or gradual after seeing someone not taking care of themselves, acting out of character, spending large amounts of money, or showing other signs of mental distress.

It may be hard to talk to them about it, but it may be what they need most. Knowing that someone cares for them may be the push they need to get help. Bipolar disorder does not get better on its own.

Their treatment may include medication, CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy) or other options as needed. They may even have a co-occurring condition that may also need to be treated. The most common conditions are ADHD, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

If you or someone you care about is in a bipolar episode and experiencing thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, please get to an ER immediately, or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text HOME to 741741. Both are free.

Support and Love

Those with bipolar disorder need two major things from those they love and care about: support and love. It’s not easy to battle your own mind every day. It can get exhausting. I’ve watched my friends battle through issues with medications, hallucinations, depressive and manic episodes. This is not fun, but they did not choose their chemical makeup. They just try to get through life like the rest of us.

If you love someone with bipolar disorder, please read Mental Illness and Relationships

It can be a bumpy road, as I learned, but it’s entirely worth it.

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Information courtesy of Mayo Clinic

Psych Central