BiPolar Disorder and the Family

For several months, the question of what was wrong with Jesse Jackson, Jr., was a mystery.  The Congressman’s office was very guarded about why Jackson was absent, first stating that he was exhausted, then adding that he was struggling with physical and emotional ailments.  Finally, just last week, the Mayo Clinic announced that Jackson had been diagnosed with bipolar depression.


Why all the secrecy?  Unfortunately, it is still true that politicians and other leaders are never allowed to have anything wrong with them that could be construed as emotional.  It seems that this fear is still alive in America.  Understandably, that may be why both his wife and his staff suggested that his problems were most likely consequences related to gastric surgery, which he had in 2004.


So what is bipolar depression, or the more general term “bipolar disorder?”  (Dr. Jill Hubbard and myself just completed a recorded Perspective on this diagnosis, and the CD can be ordered at  Let’s start with some history.  Originally, it was called manic-depressive disorder, and it wasn’t that long ago that it was considered untreatable.  The back wards of mental hospitals were full of people with this disorder.


Then they discovered that lithium, a mineral, could reduce or even eliminate the symptoms, and the person treated with lithium could function in the everyday world.  Those back wards of mental hospitals were emptied.  Theproblem was caused by a person’s cells not absorbing sodium properly, but with treatment, everything can be stabilized within the cells of the person.  Today, other medications are used as alternatives to lithium, along with anti-depressants.


Bipolar is often compared to diabetes, in that it is a biochemical disorder in the body.  There is often a family history of people having either diabetes or bipolar, but it can skip generations, so there is no clear pattern.  Both illnesses require ongoing medication that allows for normal functioning of the body and the emotions, and both are basically a physiological disorder.


The difference is that with bipolar, the emotions are more overtly involved.  The untreated bipolar person will have cyclical mood swings, and these mood swings can be very extreme.  In what is called bipolar I, these swings will go between deep depression to the opposite manic phase when the person may go days without sleeping, and create all kinds of chaos as they live out the grandiosity of their mania.


Unlike diabetes, there is no blood test that will clarify diagnosis.  Instead, diagnosis is based on a collection of symptoms that include cyclical swings in moods, rapid thoughts, and interestingly, limited effectiveness of antidepressants.   The person with a true bipolar disorder will take an antidepressant.  It will work for a time, and then stop working.  The antidepressant medications need to be taken in conjunction with mood stabilizers.  Basically, effective treatment is the best tool for diagnosis.


We’ve been describing bipolar I, but there are also variants, including what Jackson was diagnosed, which is called bipolar 2.  Here the level of the manic phase is much less and the cycles typically swing between deep depression and only a mild mania.  There are also some who will cycle rapidly, while others may cycle over the course of a year.  I remember a man I worked with who was bipolar 2, and in looking back over his life, he found that the depression would always begin just before summer, and the depression would last until late fall.  His cycle was finally broken by proper medication.


Maybe someday the negative reaction to this disorder will be removed.


Anyone in your family struggled with this disorder?  How did the family handle it?

This entry was posted in How Family Works, Marriage & Family Matters and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to BiPolar Disorder and the Family

  1. Zulqarnain says:

    Sadly it was my Ex. I was too much committed to her. But I end it later when she try to cheat on me and in result her family along with her accused me to overdose her & having relations with other. Needless to say that I was 100% innocent . As if she attempt suicide which she have tried a lot of times I will be the murderer.

  2. Trish says:

    My mom and brother both have this. My brother refuses medication and is currently coping through lots of physical activity (as in constant marathons and even training for an Ironman). My mother is having terrible trouble staying stabilized as the Depakote is now causing too many side effects and several other meds they have tried seemed to cause an allergic reaction.

    It is so hard because I live far away and she is EXTREMELY isolated in her life – I am just praying that she does not reach the point of being suicidal again. It has been a struggle just to get her to the psychiatrist – her doctor had to threaten to cut off her meds to get her to go – and I can’t convince her to go back to a psychologist again. (If they let her down one time, she is done with them, and she has been through so many and finally refused to go again.)

    Is there a specific book or any resource you would recommend to help me understand better what my mom is dealing with? (Not sure where this fits into it all, but my mom also experienced sexual abuse from the age of 2 ’til the age of 7 and was previously diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.)

    • drstoop says:

      That’s really frustrating with your mom. I don’t think her abuse is related to the bipolar, but probably created some other issues. The only book I can think of is titled “Stop, you’re driving me crazy.”

      • Trish says:

        Thanks, I’ll check it out.

        BTW, I got my copy of The Book of Life Recovery (via Tyndale Blog Network) and read straight through the first eight chapters last night. I am definitely going to spend time going through the Bible studies but wanted to get a feel for the whole book so I can write my review, and I love it! I never knew before listening to New Life Live that the Steps and recovery process were for more than alcoholics or drug addicts, but it really does apply to so much more than that. Thanks to you and Steve for writing it.

    • Allayna says:

      That’s the thinking of a creative mind

  3. Pingback: Bipolar Disorder Meaning | Is Bipolar Hereditary

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