How Does a Severe Bipolar Parent Affect Children?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness that affects 5.7 million adults in the United States. Bipolar patients display symptoms of severe highs that are manic in nature. The disease can shift to a deep depression, causing mood instability and uneven temperament. Often this disease is called manic-depression. When someone with bipolar has children, it can be difficult for both sides of the relationship.

Poor Judgment

One form of bipolar behavior that can negatively affect children is the symptom of poor judgment. This is the manic form of bipolar disorder. Poor judgment comes into play when the bipolar person is deep in the realm of a manic episode. They may begin to display episodes of very poor judgment. They often do this without thinking rationally. This can affect children when the parent engages in daring behavior that may not be safe for a child. Examples of this may include drinking while watching small children, not keeping a close eye on small children at home or in public, allowing tweens and teens to have unsupervised parties, letting teens have drinking parties or letting little ones swim or ride bikes unsupervised.

Aggressive or Risky Behavior

When the bipolar parent is in the manic phase of their disease, they may exhibit aggressive or risky behavior. This can be very dangerous not only to themselves but to the children around them. Signs of aggressive behavior may include being easily agitated toward others—especially the children. It could also mean loud and obnoxious bouts of name calling, screaming, mental abuse and belittling. Risky behavior may include verbal abuse that could cross the line to hitting, punching, kicking, grabbing, pinching or pushing a child. The bipolar parent could enter a fit of rage and not realize exactly what he or she is doing in the heat of the moment. They may also have no recollection of their behavior afterward.


Spending money plays a huge part in the life of a manic bipolar. Spending frivolously on items can spoil and confuse children. Some bipolar parents get a high off of buying their kids new toys or outfits, only to later verbally put down their behavior by saying things such as “Why did I spend so much? Now I will not be able to pay our electric bill and we will all freeze!” Being overly dramatic and verbally sharing this information in front of children can have a detrimental effect on their self- worth and well-being. Many times they spend money they do not have.


On the opposite end of the manic spectrum lies depression and sadness for many bipolar parents. The sadness can lead to hours and days of constant depression. This sadness becomes apparent to the children of the family. Seeing their parent crying and emotionally distraught can be heartbreaking to a child because he feels helpless, or he may blame himself.

Loss of Interest

Having an overall loss of interest in day-to-day life can be a sign of the depressive side of the bipolar parent. This can have a huge impact on the relationship between parent and child. The parent may withdrawal from school activities and sports that their child may be involved in. They may spend a great deal of time detached from daily activities such as meals spent together or helping with homework. Overall loss of interest can affect a child negatively during this phase.