My Mother Has Bipolar and is Refusing to Take Her Medication!

My mother is suffering from bipolar and I am at the end of my rope. She was put on an antidepressant for hot flashes, and she was a totally different person. She seemed stable, and didn’t have a single high or low episode. We were all so relieved, and suddenly she stopped them. In all honesty, its painful to be around her. She refuses to admit she has any such condition. Its “silly talk” to her. And why, she says, should I get on a medication to make other people happy?! I don’t want to lose my relationship with my mom. But if she won’t get help, that’s what’s going to happen. For my own mental health… suggestions and advice would be appreciated.


“Why should I get on medication to make other people happy?!”

“Well, Mom, because you love me. Because I love you. This may seem like silly talk to you, but I’m worried about our relationship. I feel hurt when you belittle my concerns. I thought you felt better when you were taking the medication. Was I wrong?”

Notice that I didn’t say “it’s painful to be around you” or “the way you act hurts me.” Instead I used “I statements.” This makes it not about her, but about you—about how you’re feeling. Saying things like: “You’re driving me nuts!” “You have no idea how miserable you’re making me!” puts people immediately on the defense. “I statements” are less threatening and are a better way to get the person’s attention. People with mental illness are often self-involved; they may not realize how much their behavior is affecting other people. Showing her you care in a non-bullying way may cause her to reconsider her resistance to treatment. You can’t force her to admit, or even expect her to recognize, that she has a problem. You can’t force her to take meds. You might try pointing out the positive effects of the medication. Did it help her hot flashes? Were the two of you getting along better? Was she sleeping better? Was she eating better? It’s hard for anyone to take a pill everyday unless there is some noted benefit. Medication is expensive, there can be significant negative side effects, and compliance is an admission that there’s a problem.

Have you ever heard of a book I’m Not Sick! I Don’t Need Help! by Xavier Amador? It’s a great source for helping learn how to approach a loved one who is resistant to getting the help they need. One of my friends, when he was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, only took the medication because everybody told him he should—not because there was anything wrong with him. He simply took the medication because he loved his family and this made them happy. Once he got better, he came to understand and realize that he had a brain condition that needed a little help. Now he takes his meds for himself.

If these tactics don’t get the results you want, it still doesn’t mean that you need to lose your relationship with your mom. What it means is that you need to distance yourself from her highs and her lows. Distance yourself from the bipolar disorder, not from your mom. Do not engage her when she’s openly hostile. Be there for her, but do not let her lows drag you down. If you don’t meet her negativity with negativity, or if you don’t allow yourself to despair from her despair, I think you’ll find that she’ll get through her mood swings more quickly. It’s hard to be the only one in the room that’s nasty. It’s hard to remain miserable when everyone around you is happy.

You do not mention whether or not you’re still living at home. I’ve said this over and over again on this site: You need to take care of yourself. Always put your needs first. If you don’t, you’ll burn out and not be there when your mom really needs you. If you’re still living at home, assuming you’re old enough to move out, you may want to get a place of your own—put a little distance between you and your mom. You might just find that this does wonders for your relationship.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave your feedback here!