How can I help my son?

“My son was just diagnosed with bipolar 2 and is in a deep depression. He is working on trying new meds and I know it will take time. My son recently got a tattoo on his forearm and hates it. He cannot seem to move past it and says his life is destroyed because of it. He has started having it layered off but realizes it will never come off completely!”

I have no idea if this is the bipolar and his chemical imbalance causing such irrational thoughts? He is a vain person and I fear this drastic thinking will never change? As a parent I don’t know how to help! Can you give me advice?

First of all I would like to thank you for sending in your question.  Seeking answers and support is quite instrumental when trying to learn about what you can do to help someone with bipolar disorder.  I can understand your concerns about your son because I have bipolar II disorder as well.  I suffer from depression quite often along with occasional episodes of mania.  With depression it can be quite an individual thing with how we experience it and in how we try to cope with it.  For example I become a “recluse” and want to be left alone to ride it out.  If I want to “reach out” to someone I do but more often than not I need time and space until the depression lifts.

Knowing what your son needs to get through this depressive episode would aid you with knowing what may help and what may not.  If you are unsure what will be helpful don’t be afraid to ask him.  Even if he is unsure and doesn’t know at least you will be giving him an important message, “that you care” about what is happening to him.  Sometimes people are afraid to ask us what they can to do to help in fear that they will somehow make things worse for us.  But that generally isn’t the case, we already feel unwell and in our eyes we just want to feel better any which way that we can. Talking to us about our depression can give us hope and make us feel less alone.  Often times when we are depressed we do not want to talk to anyone, but timing is key when it comes to finding “that window of opportunity” where we will be open to talking.  It does exist but it can take a lot of time, patience, compassion and understanding from our loved ones until we are ready to open up.

Some people benefit from having others around when they are depressed.  One way that you may be able to help your son during a depressive episode is to “ask him if there is anything that you can do to help”.  He may not be very responsive to that or he may be able to lean on you for support.  Even if he rejects that kind of help from you he will “at least see that you care about his well-being” because you have made an effort to help.  Sometimes it helps for a parent to “take a step back” and to just “be there in the background”, that alone can reassure a person who is depressed.  It may not seem like much but it can be a huge help.

The chemical imbalance that you speak of can contribute to irrational thoughts for those of us who have bipolar disorder.  And you are exactly right with regards to it taking time when trying new medication.  I have had many different trials of medications over the years and it was definitely a “lesson in patience” for me.  Ideally there would be a “magic pill” that we could take which would work right away and 100% of the time.  Unfortunately things just don’t work that way.  If your son is becoming “impatient” with the meds not kicking in quick enough it may be helpful to remind him and reassure him to stick with it, that it takes a bit of time to see results.

Other things that you can do is to encourage him to “learn as much as possible” about bipolar 2 disorder.  The more that he can learn about it the better.  Educating yourself will also be helpful as it will help you to better understand what he is dealing with.  You may also want to check within your community to see if there are any support groups that you can join as a parent with a child who has bipolar disorder.  Also if you think that your son would be open to going to a bipolar disorder support group I would recommend that he join one.  If you are unsure how to go about finding a support group your son’s doctor should be able to refer you to one.  Also some communities have “mental health clinics” and they often have support groups not only for adults but for youth as well.  If that seems to be too intimidating for him perhaps he would be willing to find an online support group such as the “Ask A Bipolar” one so he can see how others cope with their bipolar symptoms.  Often times seeing that others suffer from a lot of the same things can be a huge help as it makes us feel less alone especially when we are struggling.

If your son is not seeing a counselor or a therapist I would suggest that he try that as well.  Having counseling sessions would help him with moving past things like thinking that his tattoo has destroyed his life.  With any type of “irrational thoughts” it can be very beneficial to get help from a trained therapist.  If he would be willing to see a therapist he will first need a “referral” from his doctor.  If he has a good doctor they should be able to recommend someone who is knowledgeable about bipolar disorder.   I saw a therapist for a couple of years when I was really struggling with things.  That alone was a very important and helpful resource for me.  I was able to learn a lot of very useful and practical coping skills and strategies that still to this day help me get through rough times.

It is also important to realize and accept that “medication” is only one part to treating the disorder.  There are many other things that can be done such as some of the things I have mentioned that can help a person to better manage their bipolar symptoms.  Above all else providing unconditional love, understanding and support can go a long way and can give us the hope and encouragement that we often need.  If you have any further questions or comments please write to us again at www.askabipolar.com.

One thought on “How can I help my son?

  1. Hello,
    Thank you for this information. My son is a recovering alcoholic for 4 years and has just recently been diagnosed bi-polar II.
    He is having a very hard time accepting his diagnosis as he has such regret over the past years. He also, has gotten a lot of tattoos that he now hates and feels he did in a hypo-manic state. He feel his life is ruined and is faced with looking at them everyday.
    My question is what can I do when he chooses to isolate himself from his loved ones. Should I leave him alone or try to talk and encourage him?
    It scares me when he does this because he seems to sink into the depression more. He is on meds, seeing dr.’s and started a support group today. Grateful for all of this, however, he makes comments that he would rather not be here than live the rest of his life with bipolar II. Any words of wisdom from someone who can relate will be appreciated.
    Thank you, R’s Mom

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