Skip to content

Bipolar Disorder Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Balancing Act: A Mother and Her Sons Cope with Bipolar Disorder

A family learns to deal with bipolar disorder, once called manic depression.
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature

Fran Szabo, 61, of Bethlehem, Pa., is one of those moms who speak glowingly about her kids without sounding like she’s trying to one-up other mothers. All three are successful in their careers and personal lives.

But the road to this happiness, Fran acknowledges, was bumpy for her, husband Paul, and sons Thad, 36, Vance, 32, and Ross, 29. Ross and Thad were both diagnosed with bipolar disorder so severe they required psychiatric hospitalizations. For years after that, Thad was estranged from the family. And on one awful night, when Ross was 16, Fran and Paul rushed him to the hospital after he told them he was planning to kill himself.

Recommended Related to Bipolar Disorder

When Bipolar Mania Gets Out of Control

There's no denying the exhilaration that mania brings. For many with bipolar disorder, there's a period of denial -- a disbelief that the wonderful surge of energy and euphoria marks a disease that truly needs treatment. "Mania is a fascinating thing ... it's the brain creating its own hormonal high," says Carrie Bearden, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA. "Most people first become manic in their early 20s, at a time in life when they're not thinking...

Read the When Bipolar Mania Gets Out of Control article > >

Life is much better now, mostly because the Szabos, led by Fran, faced the mental health issues head-on. And the challenges were formidable. Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic-depressive illness, is marked by extreme mood swings, from deep depression to mania and elation. About 6 million adults have bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, but there are no firm numbers on how many children and teens are affected.

After learning the hard way how to cope with their family’s bipolar struggles, the Szabos have reached out to help others. In 1996, Fran joined Compeer Inc., an advocacy group that seeks to help those with mental illness, and for a time was on its advisory board. Ross, who lives in Venice, Calif., is now director of youth outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign. He is a presenter for Campuspeak, Inc., talking to college students nationwide about mental health issues, and the author (with Melanie Hall, a fellow activist) of the book, Behind Happy Faces: Taking Charge of Your Mental Health — A Guide for Young Adults.

For families with a child with bipolar disorder, Fran and Ross offer these been-there tips:

Talk about bipolar disorder. When Ross was discharged from his first hospitalization, 13 years ago, the home atmosphere was tense. “It felt like we were walking on eggshells,” Fran remembers. Ross’ mood was so unpredictable at that time, she never knew if he would be happy, sad, angry, or withdrawn. The Szabos learned to talk about issues as they came up, Ross says, gradually getting better at it. Ross asked his psychiatrist for advice on breaking the ice and also reached out to Thad, inspiring his older brother to reconnect with the family.

Today on WebMD

lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
Pills on blank prescription paper
Learn about this popular bipolar disorder medication.
 
serious looking young woman
Assess your symptoms.
teen girl in bad mood
How is each one different?
 
Feeling Ups and Downs
ASSESSMENT
Bipolar or Schizo
Article
 
Foods to Avoid
Article
Man being scolded by his shadow
Article
 
lunar eclipse
Slideshow
depressed man
Article
 
young women not speaking
Article
man talking with therapist
Article