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Bipolar Disorder (Children and Adolescents)

Effects of Bipolar Disorder on Siblings

10/17/2008

Question:

My 11 year old grandson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 6. He had problematic behaviors almost from birth and much of his rage has always been directed towards his brother who is two years older, but smaller. I am very concerned about the effects on my older grandson. He has become withdrawn and does not seem to enjoy life. What suggestions do you have that might help ease the stress and anxiety that he is experiencing?

Answer:

Thank you for your excellent question. It is very common for siblings to develop their own problems as a direct (e.g., through hostile interactions) or indirect (e.g., parents spending more time on ill child) result of living with a child with psychiatric problems. I'd suggest talking to your grandson's (the one with bipolar disorder) therapist to see what he/she thinks. Sometimes one session of psychoeducation about the sibling's diagnosis helps. Sometimes just a couple of sessions are required to "get things off their chest" about living with their sibling's diagnoses. Other times more intensive therapy is needed to treat full-blown psychiatric diagnoses.

In addition, keep in mind that psychiatric disorders tend to run-in families, so the older brother might be expressing a similar mood disorder that was latent but now triggered by this stress. Hope that helps.

All best wishes,

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Response by:

Nicholas   Lofthouse, PhD Nicholas Lofthouse, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University