How Can I Help My Mother Who I Think is Bipolar?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. My family and I suspect that our mother is bipolar and has been for quite some time. She is a very combative person and very unstable at the moment. She excessively spends money that they don’t have. They had to declare bankruptcy in the past. Currently they are living in a small mobile home that my brothers and I bought for them and they are living off of my stepdads SS checks. They do not have medical insurance which also proposes a problem. She is on many medications, but goes off and on them all the time. They can’t afford many of the medications she needs for other issues such as, gout, blood pressure, cholesterol, Polymyositis and more.

She is about to drive my step dad and any support form my brother (which she lives next to) away. I am in another state and don’t know what to do. I grew up with this chaos and am not sure what I can do to help. SHe has tried to commit suicide at least 5-7 times before, with the last time being almost successful. She is in a very delicate state of mind and I don’t know how to get her the help that we believe she needs. She refuses to seek therapy. We have never come out and told her that we believe she is BiPolar, because we were fearful of how she might take it (most likely telling us that we are all against her) but also because we were hoping a doctor would see what we see and tell her. She would be more apt to believe a doctor.

The time has come where we have to do something. We fear the worst if we tell her what we think. I think she will attempt suicide again, She often talks about it. She hates her life and wishes she were older and would just die. Do you think this is bipolar? I know this is so brief, there is soooo much more history to be told, but I am at a loss for time. I am at the moment a few hours away from my husband leaving for 8 months to Iraq. I can not really handle this and raising four kids at once. Please help! Thank You.

A. There may be little that you can do from another state. But the truth is that there may be little that you could do to help your mother, even if you were her next door neighbor. What makes this situation so difficult is the fact that she refuses help. This makes it doubly difficult for the family who has to watch her act in very destructive ways and there is little they can do to help.

While you’re limited in how you can help, I have a few ideas. Instead of trying to convince her that she is bipolar (she may be but I cannot tell with so little information) and because you are not sure that she has the disorder tell her that you are concerned about her health and suggest she see a doctor instead of a therapist. While she may need a therapist, she seems unwilling to seek this type of help. If you could convince her to see a doctor, she may be willing to listen to his or her advice. The doctor may even be able to prescribe her medication that could serve to decrease her unstable behavior.

You can talk to your mother over the phone about seeing a doctor but be sure that if you try this approach you may want to instruct your family to take this approach with her as well. She may be willing to see a doctor if the same consistent message comes from the entire family.

A major concern with your mother is her talk of suicide and the fact that she has previously attempted suicide. Take this very seriously as your mother has already proved that she will attempt to take her own life. Past suicide attempts can be predictors of future attempts. This makes her a danger to herself and in most states she meets the criteria to be hospitalized against her will. If anyone has heard her mention suicide, you or your family should strongly consider calling either the police or a local mental health crisis team. The police or a mental health crisis team will come to the house and evaluate whether your mother needs to go to the hospital for treatment. Chances are, if she has mentioned suicide and because of her past attempts, she will be hospitalized. You can assist in this process, even though you are in another state by instructing your family to call the emergency authorities.

Unfortunately, the nature of the mental health system is such that you cannot force individuals to get help unless they are a danger to themselves and others. Even when it is clear that someone is in desperate need of help, there is little anyone can do to force that individual into treatment. In your specific situation, however, your mother seems to be a danger to herself and will likely meet the criteria for a hospitalization. Let me know how this turns out. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 7 Apr 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). How Can I Help My Mother Who I Think is Bipolar?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/04/07/how-can-i-help-my-mother-who-i-think-is-bipolar/

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