Will My Bipolar Son Be Okay?

March 14, 2013 Natasha Tracy

It’s devastating to get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or another mental illness. It means many things to many people, but I know for me, it meant a lifetime condition and a lifetime of treatment. It honestly felt like a death sentence.

But a bipolar diagnosis doesn’t just affect the person with bipolar disorder. A bipolar diagnosis can affect their family and friends, especially if the person with bipolar disorder is younger. It’s completely understandable for a parent to wonder if bipolar disorder is a death sentence. It’s completely understandable for a parent to wonder if his or her child is going to be okay.

While bipolar disorder (or any mental illness) is absolutely not a death sentence, that fear is reasonable. It’s the kind of fear people have before they’re educated about the disorder. It’s pretty normal.

Worrying Parents

And parents worry about their kids. They worry if their kids take their jackets on cold days so they certainly worry when their child gets a life-changing diagnosis of a mental illness. So when a parent says to me, “My child just got diagnosed with bipolar disorder, will he be okay?” I understand their concern.

The Course of Bipolar Disorder

The fact is, initially, things might be very not okay. Things might be an absolute whirling dervish of treatments, and stress, and symptoms, and doctors, and hospitals, and general craziness. Things might feel completely out-of-control and it might seem like things will never get better.

But they do.

Things do get easier. Really. Eventually hospitals aren’t needed. Treatments even out. Symptoms even out. Doctors become consistent. Some control is put back into everyday life.

Will My Son with Bipolar Be Okay?

This all depends on your definition of “okay.” If your definition of “okay” is “exactly what he was like before the diagnosis,” then no, he might never be okay. But if you mean will he grow up to have a happy, healthy, successfully life, then yes, I would say the chances are very good that your son will be okay.

What’s important to know is that expectations need to be adjusted once a mental illness diagnosis is made. My life is not the same life I would have had without bipolar disorder. That’s just a fact. It took me a year-and-a-half longer for me to get my bachelor’s degree than it would for the average person, thanks to my bipolar. I’ve spend time in the hospital and undergone nasty treatments that have negatively affected me, thanks to my bipolar. That’s just the way things are.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not “okay.” I am. My life is okay. It’s different than your average life, but then, many lives are. There are really nasty bits. But that’s what disease brings. It doesn’t mean that I’m not okay.

My definition of “okay” has changed with time. My life is different than I thought it would be. Sometimes I’m really sad about that, but most of the time, it just requires a change in thinking.

So as a parent, I believe your role is to be open to the new definition of “okay.” I believe your role is to flex with the reality of the disease and find a new way to define what it is to live a successful and happy life. Because I have no doubt it can be done, but it just might not look like what you thought it would. It’s okay to grieve that loss; but, in the end, your expectation adjustment can be critical in helping your son make that new life work so that he is, indeed, “okay.”

(Check out the blog Mental Illness in the Family, here at HealthyPlace for more on family-related topics.)

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2013, March 14). Will My Bipolar Son Be Okay?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

April, 17 2024 at 11:27 pm

What do you do when your bipolar son just won’t allow help from us anymore? He is extremely difficult to live with and we can’t be involved with his drs or financial issues because he is of legal age(33). We have to watch him fall on his own and it is very hard to watch. We can’t put him on our insurance because he is of age. What rights do we have as parents to take over to help our son?

April, 18 2024 at 12:32 pm

Hi Angie,
Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry you're in that situation. I know how hard it is for parents to watch a child with mental illness struggle. Know this: you are not alone. Many parents are in this untenable situation.
Your options are very limited for the reasons you have listed. Your son is an adult and get to make his own decisions -- even when those decisions are heavily influenced by an illness. And while some might disagree, the US tends to fall on the side of personal rights, regardless of illness.
If your son is a risk to himself or others, you can see about getting him treated without his consent. (In some States, this is also possible when a person is at a grave threat of decompensation [getting sicker].) I know this is a hard thing to do, but sometimes the only thing that will help someone is the treatment they refuse.
I recommend you check out the Treatment Advocacy Center. They have a hotline and a lot of information online about serious mental illness and treatment of those illnesses:
I also wrote this piece about the situation when help is refused (not associated with HealthyPlace) and it lists some additional resources:
Finally, I recommend you reach out to other parents in the same situation. You may be able to find these people through groups like NAMI (just Google them). Knowing others facing the same issues can help.
I hope your son is able to get help.
-- Natasha Tracy

john m
October, 20 2014 at 9:47 pm

Hey. We are new to the painful world of bipolar parenting a 26 year old child. Six months in - do some research on NAMI and Lyme disease - get tested - Western Blot. Not sure where we are headed but - recently found peace for him with mood stabilizers - never give up hope!

Natasha Tracy
March, 20 2013 at 6:48 pm

Hi Holly,
Thank-you for your comment. Reading it gave _me_ what I needed tonight. Thank-you for that gift.
I honoured to give hope. It's out there, I promise.
- Natasha

March, 20 2013 at 3:10 pm

I've reread this blog several times over and it honestly has helped me. I want to print it and put in on my refrigerator. Our daughter was diagnosed with bipolar 1 a year ago and the despair I feel sometimes overwhelms me.
I've tried to learn all I can about this illness but all I really want to know is that she will be ok. You have given me hope. Keep up the inspiring and informative writing. Thank you Natasha.

March, 18 2013 at 1:22 pm

I am a mother of 2 young adults who have been both diagnosed with Bipolar and I,myself, served 20 years in the Air Force, suffer from PTSD (sexual trauma).
Both my babies and a third child (who is normal they say but he's spoiled rot by me)were diagnosed at a very young ages, to me, 13-15 years old.
I now call my books, "Sins of a mother". My family will never be normal and I have learned to live with for over 10 years. My oldest son, 24 yrs old, heard voices, committed a felony at 15 yrs old (given a lite sentence). He never acknowledged me as his mother for years and just this month he is talking to me, hence via text, but at least he's talking. He apologizes for not forgiving me for doing a tour to Korea (military, unaccompanied), he was 7 years old. This is part of my disability also.
My daughter, is the worst of the worst on bipolar, almost 21 years old, and has dropped out of 4 colleges, 4 or 5 different jobs, and we can't live together.
How sad are our lives? Thanks for letting me vent.

March, 18 2013 at 10:59 am

Thanks Anne marie to your response which was helpful. I cannot tell you how our family has been disrupted trying to help our son who is bipolar and owns a slight learning disability. together the mixture makes for very difficult navigating. The mood swings are many and major in two directions...When he is good he is very, very good, but when he is bad he is horrid. But we are trying to adjust to things and we do realize the loss we have had but I do not think that we have had the opportunity to mourn them in the proper way because we are always handling so much at one time. We look forward to the time when he will truly get a handle on this issue and move to do the things that can help him cope better. Til then, we manage as best we can and strive to help him to seek the proper help as we work to do better with understanding the behavior. I have a hope that things will be OK...It is hard to accept that they will not be what we would consider "normal". thanks.

Natasha Tracy
March, 18 2013 at 5:36 am

Anne Marie,
Thank-you so much. Your tips are invaluable. I may write an article where I quote them because I think they could help others.
Thanks for your honest voice.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
March, 18 2013 at 5:34 am

I'm sure you mean well but I have the healthiest sleep of anyone I know, I cook and eat fresh food and I work from home. Believe me, if being well were as simple as you say, there would be no mental illness.
And I don't have a daughter.
- Natasha

Anne Marie
March, 18 2013 at 4:48 am

Natasha, I always enjoy reading your blog and with this article in particular, you are right on the money. As a parent, adjusting to a new reality is not easy, but there is light at the end of the tunnel! Four things have helped me tremendously:
(1) Attending NAMI's Family to Family course. I cannot say enough about how it helped me understand more about mental illnesses, how to cope with the roller-coaster of behaviors we were seeing, and how to better support my daughter as her advocate.
(2) Attending therapy with my husband to help us work through the major upheaval in our lives and adjust to how this diagnosis impacted our relationship, our family dynamics, and our finances.
(3) Give myself (and my daughter) permission to grieve all that we had lost -- all our hopes and dreams for the life we wanted her to have. It is a process that eventually leads to acceptance.
(4) And lastly, remind myself daily to focus on all that is wonderful about her, all the qualities that have made her who she is. I savor every one of the good moments, because I know that it all could change tomorrow.
Bless you for your advocacy, Natasha!

David Babich
March, 17 2013 at 6:25 am

Coming from a family of more than one type of mental illness; by diagnosis anyway; I imagine some of your grief. Now that I well and will stay well with simple and in-expensive habits, I see that most things that are called mental illness, are really just the symptoms of unhealthy life style and habits. Poor sleep, un-natural foods, and excessive stress when corrected result in great mental health. Yes, I know it sounds too simple. And as a great man once said, “If at first your idea is not absurd, it is of no value.”
So, I ask you, do you and your daughter sleep well? Do you eat natural, organic foods? Do you have healthy low levels of stress?

March, 15 2013 at 9:53 am

What a mind reader. I have been struggling with this issue since my daughter was diagnosed two years ago. Of course, when I started to see a therapist (9 months ago) about how to cope with my daughter's illness; I was diagnosed bipolar. It all made sense (genetics et.), but it was quite a shock to the family dynamics. Right now the whole family is struggling with what "ok" will be for our family. I am struggling the most with the knowledge that the reason she has this illness is because of me. The guilt of being the cause of her pain and suffering is overwhelming.

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