Scared Mother

My son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 22. He was taking Focalin at the time for ADHD. He took Depakote woman-on-sofa-having-headache-100111995for a while but stopped after about 6 months because he said it didn’t help.  He had a good job then, but was having very bad anxiety so he quit. Things got worse after that. He is 24 now and hasn’t worked in 5 months. He said he can’t because of anxiety and can’t think. Does bipolar disorder “peak” in mid 20’s, or get worse? He is now taking Lithium and that is scary too.


This is a very good question. Being a mother who has Bipolar and just had her son diagnosed with Bipolar not too long ago I can relate to this question. This can be a scary time in both the parents and the child’s life. It’s quite common for teens and young adults such as your son to be diagnosed at this time. I am not sure what causes the diagnoses to be common in early 20’s, could be the stress of school or the stress of transitioning from child to adulthood. What we do know is that Bipolar seems to be intensified with stress, that is why I attribute the commonality of diagnoses or onset of the illness in young adults such as your son because the 20’s can be an overwhelming and stressful time in their life.

In my experience it can take years to get the correct cocktail. So to answer the question “Does Bipolar “peak” in mid 20’s?” I would say no. What may seem like a peak could be the difference between not being able to find the right medication and succumbing to the illness. Depression and anxiety if not treated can be debilitating. When your says he can’t think, he possibly means his mind won’t shut off and therefore his thoughts are attacking him making concentrating on tasks difficult.

Sometimes during the treatment of Bipolar, other disorders can pop up causing treatment to become more challenging. After about 8 years of different medicine my doctors determined that I also had A.D.D. Once they added Concerta (a medication used for A.D.D. and A.D.H.D.) to my treatment plan I was able to concentrate and focus. Don’t lose hope.  The doctors will have to keep trying until they find something that works for your son.

Lithium, like Depakote, is a common mood stabilizer that is used for bipolar treatment.  It’s about the oldest medicine out there and they have the most research and information on it. Lithium can be scary because you have to be vigilant with checking on your levels, just like Depakote.  Levels can quickly rise to toxic levels causing physical illness. When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar, Lithium was the medication of choice, however after 6 weeks on it I ended up having toxic levels that left me quite ill. I had to get off Lithium and try a slew of other medication combinations.  Depakote may not have been working, but there are many medications on the market, such as Lithium, and the truth is, some work and some don’t.  It all depends on the individual, what may work for one person, may not work for someone else. Fortunately for my son he is being treated with the same medications I am on and it seems to work out pretty good for him. I do, however, understand that not everyone has the luxury of having a relative or parent diagnosed before their child is to help with navigating through all the information and questions about this disorder.

My advice to you as a parent would be to keep researching!!  Even if you have to attend doctors appointment with him,  keep trying!! Although it can be frustrating when the medications don’t work, or cause more annoyance than they help, there IS a combination out there that will work for him.


8 thoughts on “Scared Mother

  1. One thing I rarely see mentioned in these posts is this . WHY is insight for the bi polar person so COMPLETELY forgotten ?? It’s all about medicine cocktails etc etc . There is a LOT of comment about how the family members need to educate themselves .
    Every mental health person should be required to help the person help themselves ,gain INSIGHT into themselves . I believe they can do it but their care makes them dependent . People with other illnesses have to do it ,why not the mentally ill ??
    Years ago the program Recovery INC was suggested to me ,it’s a wonderful program ,not used nearly enough for the mentally ill . Recovery preceded AA ,Al Anon ,all of the 12 Step programs which are SO INVALUABLE and work so well for millions all over the world .
    My family have been DEEPLY affected by alcoholism and bi polar disease so I have seen where treatment falls short . Psychiatry is FAR from an exact science ,in fact the prescription pad is the psychiatrists best friend !!

  2. An addition to my previous comment .Check Recovery Self Help Systems ,developed by Dr Abraham Low ,it’s on line .

  3. Christine said it perfectly! Don’t give up. There are so many medications and combinations of them that it can take a long time to find the right one. And, you may discover down the road that the one that was right may need to be be changed or tweaked later. Also be aware, though I doubt it really applies to you, that left untreated research shows that bipolar gets worse over time so keep him in the habit of keeping it managed.
    Good luck to you and your son, I wish you the best

  4. Although Mary Mc is on point about self insight, I have observed that it is a process that often takes trial and error to master. This may be especially true with bipolar illness. Just the symptoms alone often prevent acceptance of the illness by one who suffers from it.Due to the debilitating side effects, my family members have been especially relectant to acknowledge the need for medication and/or have been in stressful situations where the med dosage is not sufficient to permit sleep thus triggering yet another manic episode. This is a very complex illness that does require significant self awareness and vigilance but only time and experience seems to provide the necessary self care required for stability and balance. As a parent, I was able to observe patterns and behaviors in my child that she was not even noticing and due to her manic state did not acknowledge even when told. Recovery may be a great program but first the patient must recognize the need for this kind of support.

  5. As person with experience of both depression and mania (I do not identify as ill or disabled), these are merely experiences I have had that others have not. Possibly I may experience them again, possibly not, but I CAN lessen the risk (because lets face it, these experiences are disruptive at best and terrifying at worst). I find ACT therapy has been the most useful, but this may have been because I had already done years of CBT and DBT. The most helpful support of all those is the support of others with personal experiences similar to mine, that is “mental illness”. I believe that all of us are at one part of a spectrum at any time that includes “madness” and “mental health”- people with a diagnosis are not “the other” and they are never “incurable”.
    After 25 years of contact with mental health services, I have come to the conclusion that psychiatrists are sophisticated drug dealers and pharmaceutical reps. Psychiatry is a young science, and who knows if it will ever yield meaningful answers. That psychiatrists are top of the food chain is an accident of history, because psychiatry at the moment serves little purpose but to categorise rich and complex people into little boxes with labels on them like “bipolar”, and then use trial and error to medicate them into conformity. The same drugs used for “bipolar” are used for epilepsy (Epilim), or schizophrenia (quetiapine). So does anyone really understand what these drugs are really doing, or are we merely seeing the placebo effect and sedation at work? I’m not saying don’t take medication, I’m merely saying that you should always see a psychiatrist as your resource person- the dealer of your own particular drug supply. Realising that you are simply a normal imperfect human being is the first step to recovery. And as predicting the future- don’t go there. Most people I know (and I know lots) with mental illnesses get better as they age as they gain insight into their experiences and gain wisdom. I would say to your son- never let a prognosis or a diagnosis define you. If you do, it will. There is always hope, even if you have to borrow someone else’s for a while.
    The most damaging people I have encountered in mental health services have been well-meaning clinicians with stigmatising attitudes- of all professions. Shield your son from these people. If your intuition tells you that something isn’t right about a health professional, then change. Trust your intuition.

  6. Please don’t be scared. As part of a community of people with bipolar diagnosis, I can tell you they are the most creative, intelligent and interesting people around, and we do develop resilience. But what we do need is for our families to stop being scared for us. (We can do that by ourselves!) We may need you to be hopeful when we are depressed or anxious, and we may need you to remind us of our recovery plan if things start to spiral (e.g. if sleep becomes erratic)- we’ll let you know in advance what we need as we learn how to manage.
    One of the hardest things about having a “diagnosis” is having to shield your everyday emotions from your family because they pathologise you and worry you are too “low” or “high”. (One day’s low mood is not depression. Having an excellent idea is not mania.) Please don’t pathologise. Just empathise.
    Your son is your son, but he is also an adult and he will learn to manage bipolar. You can’t do it for him- if you try, you will make things worse in the long-run. Just have hope. Because love and hope are all he really needs from you.
    Someone once said to me that people with mental “illness” are on a recovery journey, but their family members are each on their own recovery journey too, and that sometimes these don’t keep pace. Often family members actually hold their loved ones back from fear. Don’t let that happen to you. Deal with your own grief in the way that works for you and take care of yourself. As we say in NZ, Kia kaha 🙂 (Be strong)

  7. Christine,

    That’s your advice at the end? Just keep trying?
    I am so sick of people telling me that because it’s their way of saying “I don’t know what else to say and my next appt is here”.
    Do “professionals” really care or are they just trying to make a living?
    Thanks for letting me vent.

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