To the Couple Who Asked Me if There Was a 'Test' for Bipolar Disorder


You wanted to know information about your son’s bipolar disorder. At first you asked specific questions about the illness and I did my best to answer them. You told me about your son and I was impressed with his accomplishments and sorry to hear he was struggling.

One of your questions stuck with me.

Is there a physical test? Is the diagnosis just based on observation?

It is a common question. I wish I had an X-ray or blood test that would show my diagnosis is real. People can understand a broken arm or diabetes, but not brain disorders.

But it was what I didn’t hear that struck me.

I have heard of parents with children who won’t get treatment, desperate for answers, trying to figure out how to help them get better. Instead, you sounded like you doubted he really had an illness. I could picture you using the “tough love” approach to get him to be more productive.

My mind went back to my own brother. He had a psychotic illness starting in the late 70s. My father didn’t believe in mental illness so he didn’t really get treated. He died young in an incident that was either a reckless accident or intentional, I don’t know.

I told you about my brother. I feel guilty he didn’t have the chances I do. I pleaded with you to be gentle with your son. The words slipped out of my mouth that suicide is so common. It has been reported up to 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder die by suicide. I felt like I said too much and second guessed myself when I came home.

Now that I have had time to think, I am glad I said something. I did not want to make you feel bad or scare you. I have not met your son and I don’t know where he is mentally. But, you wanted information and that is a valuable piece of information.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

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