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Kids of Bipolar Parents May Display Risky Sexual Behavior

Kids of Bipolar Parents May Display Risky Sexual BehaviorBipolar disorder (BD) is a serious psychological disorder known for its dramatic mood shifts that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania.

The condition is often characterized by racing thoughts and decreased need for sleep, as well as its profound lows of sadness and despair.

Considerable attention has focused on BD as it is also associated with a heightened risk of suicide, substance abuse, hypersexuality, familial discord, and aggressive behavior.

While previous research has shown that children of parents with bipolar disorder are at a greater risk of developing psychiatric disorders, the psychosocial implications of being raised by parents with BD has been ignored — until now.

A new study conducted by researchers from Concordia University shows that children of parents with BD are more susceptible to psychosocial problems, most notably risky sexual behavior.

For the investigation, researchers used a longitudinal approach following children of parents with bipolar disorder, and children from families without mental disorder, from ages four to 12 until early adulthood.

They assessed:

    • Suicidal behavior
    • Self-harm
    • Smoking
    • Delinquent or criminal behavior
    • Risky sexual behavior (sexual activity before age 16, unprotected sex, abortions)

For both genders, the researchers saw the biggest group difference in the last category, which can be seen as an extension of other tendencies.

“Risky sexual behavior falls along the spectrum of general externalizing behaviors, like delinquency and aggression. We know it is predicted by externalizing behaviors in middle childhood,” said psychology professor Dr. Mark Ellenbogen.

To prevent the kids of parents with BD from engaging in risky behavior, doctors need to look beyond the patient and give the entire family, including the children, the coping skills they need to live with the disorder.

“In psychiatry, we tend to treat the patient — there’s never any evaluation of their family or kids or partners. Across my career, I’ve been saying that’s the wrong way of looking at the issues,” Ellenbogen says.

“The children of BD patients are at high risk of developing a number of psychiatric and psychosocial problems. We need to think about interventions that will work for all members of the family.”

Ellenbogen is now working to establish the first prevention program for children of parents with BD. Reducing Unwanted Stress in the Home (RUSH) will consist of 12 sessions of group therapy, with one group to teach children effective coping strategies and another to teach their parents the skills to manage stress, family discord, and children.

The pilot program, open to families in the Montreal area, will launch this summer. It will operate in groups of five to six families.

Ellenbogen and his team will monitor the behaviour, hormone levels, and mental health of the children before and after the intervention in order to assess the effectiveness of the RUSH program.

“These parents need additional help in organizing family life, parenting, dealing with spouses, and coping with stress,” Ellenbogen says.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce the levels of stress in the family, which we believe will then reduce negative outcomes in their children.”

The study may be found in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Source: Concordia University

Kids of Bipolar Parents May Display Risky Sexual Behavior

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Kids of Bipolar Parents May Display Risky Sexual Behavior. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 11 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.