Question and Answer Section
My niece has had a disastrous year of mood swings and was finally diagnosed with a Bipolar Disorder last month. She is on medication, her moods are evening out and she is feeling much better. Her and her husband are now thinking of having children. I am worried that she will have a child who also has a bipolar disorder. What are the chances of this happening? I want to talk to her about having kids, but don’t know what to say. Please help me.
This is a difficult and controversial question to answer. It is a very personal decision and both sides of the debate need to be discussed. First, I’ll tell you about the statistics that scare parents-to-be and other family members. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:
• More than two-thirds of people with the disorder have at least one close relative with the illness or with unipolar major depression.
• When one parent is affected, the risk to each child is 15-30%.
• When both parents have the disorder, the risk increases to 50-75%.
These statistics show that there is at least a 15% chance of a person with a bipolar disorder having a child with bipolar disorder. This can make the decision difficult, especially if the person with bipolar disorder has recently had a manic or depressive episode.
You also need to look at the perspective of someone with bipolar disorder that wanted to have children of her own. Kay Redfield Jamison, a well-known author, psychiatrist and person with bipolar disorder spoke to this topic in her book, An Unquiet Mind. She stated, “it had never occurred to me not to have children simply because I had manic-depressive illness. Even in my blackest depressions, I never regretted having being born... I was enormously glad to have been born, grateful for life, and I couldn’t imagine not wanting to pass on life to someone else... I honestly believe that as a result of it [bipolar disorder] I have felt more things more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; loved more, and been more loved; laughed more often for having cried more often... and slowly learned the values of caring, loyalty, and seeing things through.”
As you can see there are strong viewpoints on having children when you have a bipolar disorder. Therefore, it is important for your niece and her husband discuss having children and explore both sides of the debate. It can be helpful for them to talk to her doctor, a therapist and members of a support group. It may also be helpful for them to talk to parents that have bipolar disorder and children.
There also needs to be some planning if they do decide to have children. Becoming pregnant is very exciting, but it also causes changes in hormones and can be stressful, both of which can bring on an episode. Therefore, it is necessary for your niece to keep in close contact with her doctor to closely monitor her moods and medication. As well, they will need to decide how they will raise their child. How will they deal with the sleepless nights of having a newborn? What will her husband do if she goes into an episode, which can be scary and confusing for a child? How will they handle raising a child with bipolar disorder?
http://www.obad.ca/welcome - This is a great site where you can ask questions of professionals that have a wealth of experience working with people with bipolar disorder.
http://www.Raezornet.com - This is a site that provides a wealth of information on children with bipolar disorder. It will give your niece and her husband a better understanding of having a child with the disorder.
Please pass this information on to your niece and her husband and help them make an educated decision that is right for them. No matter what they decide, they will continue to need your support and love and are lucky to have such a caring relative.