The majority of parents with bipolar disorder monitor their children's moods, which helps them feel in control of their child's wellbeing, show US study results.
However, increased monitoring does not make parents with bipolar disorder feel less worried about their child's risk for developing the disorder, report Holly Landrum Peay (National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, Maryland) and colleagues in Social Science and Medicine.
The finding that parents felt their ability to cope with their own illness allowed them to better monitor their children's moods, “represents an important effort by affected parents and a potential intervention target for those parents with [bipolar disorder] who have lower perceived coping efficacy”, suggest the researchers.
The team used a web-based survey to assess the way 266 adult patients with bipolar disorder managed their children’s risk of developing the disorder, which included a measure of active coping and a measure of cognitive distancing. Parents using the latter strategy perceived risk to be minimized by specific attributes or experiences thought to be protective against bipolar disorder.
The vast majority (87%) of study participants acknowledged a greater risk of their child to have a mood disorder compared with someone without a family history, and the majority (a mean score of 3.8 on a scale of 1.0–5.0) endorsed monitoring their children's moods.
Despite this, monitoring was not significantly associated with less worry about their child developing a mood disorder, but it was significantly associated with a perceived control over the child's wellbeing. Indeed, a 1-point change in endorsement of monitoring equated to a 0.3-point increase in feeling control.
“Healthcare providers need to move away from a model of parents with mental illness as vehicles of risk,” write Landrum Peay et al, and instead, should “capitalize on parents' strengths and help them identify and evaluate their coping strategies.”
Active coping strategies scored more highly than parental cognitive distancing, at 3.4 versus 2.6 on a scale of 1.0 to 5.0, and significantly positively correlated with factors including active coping with one's own illness, adaptation to bipolar disorder, an increased confidence in diagnosis and endorsement of following a child's mood to feel more in control of their risk of developing the disorder.
The research team suggests that genetic education and counselling could help healthcare providers understand their patients' illness perceptions, and support their coping mechanisms.
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