Can Bipolar Be Projected Onto Others?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Q. I believe my bipolar step daughter is projecting her illness onto her children. We recently, mutually ended our guardianship of two grandchildren ages 8 and 9 . Thier mother is bipolar and I believe has other mental issues as well. We felt she was doing a better job of controling her illness. The children have been with her less than 2 months and we are seeing signs of real trouble. The 8 year old was taken, by mom to the local mental health facility and admitted for evaluation. Mom says she is having symptoms that the child never exhibited in our home. Now, less than 24 hours later the child has been put on Respidol(sp). I believe that the mother is trying to proiject her illness on her children. She had done similar things in the past. She is impossible to seak and reason with about this. Is this a common behavior of this disease? I feel I must also add that mom has been suicidal in the past. I am so fearful for these kids. I want to go back to court and try to regain guardianship but I am not sure that I can prove that this is all due to mom’s instability.

A. It is difficult to know, and this seems to be at the heart of your question, what the mother’s problems are and what the children’s problems are. This is a clearly complicated issue.

Among children whose parents have a serious psychological disorder it is possible that they are at a greater risk of suffering from similar psychological issues. This is not true for all children who parents suffer from a mental illness but there is an increased likelihood that the offspring will develop some form of related psychological issues. This could be due to genetics or environment, or a combination of both.

You did not mention the current mental health status of your daughter and because of your recent concerns I will assume for the sake of this answer that she is not well. If she is not psychologically well she could be projecting her illness on to her children but she also could be incorrectly assessing the behavior of her children (i.e. thinking there is something wrong when there in fact is not). In either case, this is a serious problem for the children.

Because the children are at risk, either because their mother is unstable or because they are being medicated for a disorder they do not have, you should consider at least getting the advice of a lawyer regarding this situation. Maybe you cannot prove their mother’s instability but perhaps the court will order that the children get a second opinion by another mental health professional regarding their recent diagnoses. A second opinion, especially if it’s found that Risperdal is not warranted, may give you the evidence you need to regain custody.

I also want to note that Risperdal is a very strong antipsychotic medication that has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use with adults, not with children. Very few if any studies have been done on the use of antipsychotic medication with children. PBS recently aired a one hour Frontline special regarding the use and effects of antipsychotic medication on children, which if you are interested in seeing can be viewed online here.

I strongly advise you to meet with a lawyer to discuss your options. Take care.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 13 Apr 2008

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2008). Can Bipolar Be Projected Onto Others?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/04/13/can-bipolar-be-proejcted-onto-others/

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