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Parenting Issues This forum is for discussing any of the parenting issues involved in your divorce, including parenting of step-children.

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Old 08-09-2013, 02:04 PM
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Default Mental Illness 'Talk'

My ex was diagnosed with Bipolar years ago and has never taken much if any medication. Over the years we have dealt with the mood swings and sever depression. The divorce and custody battles over the past have been terrible but I have ALWAYS tried my best to sheild the kids from as much as I can. My ex has had a good streak for the last year and has had very few 'episodes' but over the last 2 weeks he seems to have gotten worse again and our children (now 7&8) are confused and scared by the way he's acting and things he's doing. I have decided to have the mental illness talk as suggested by a consilor a few years ago. I'm wondering if anyone else has talked to their kids about a mentally ill parent? Any tips/suggestions? Also I want to make sure to approach it in a manner that helps their relationship with their father not further alienates him.
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Old 08-09-2013, 02:22 PM
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Have the children's doctor have this talk with them.
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Old 08-09-2013, 02:28 PM
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Seconded. Not an appropriate conversation to have with them...
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Old 08-09-2013, 02:36 PM
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Childrens doctor suggested it come from me when I felt the time was right (he's also on vacation for the next mont) so did the Family association for mental health everywhere and our last child counsillor who also is backlogged and over booked with more pressing cases. So I'm not ask IF I should have the talk, it's like the sex talk it must happen, better that they can talk to me about it then a stranger. I'm asking more for advise from anyone who has had this conversation with their children.
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Old 08-09-2013, 02:45 PM
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I will strongly suggest you do not have the talk alone with the kids. They will have questions you can't answer, and it may require some counselling for them to understand the dynamics.

Here is a support group in the GTA for families impacted by mental illness:
F.A.M.E. | Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere

I would reach out to them, they can direct you to a resource that can work with them.

I have had some experience with this. My kids have never heard from me that their mom is mentally ill. My girls know their brother is in treatment. My GF's kids know their dad has major mental health problems, but they love him dearly, and they have had counselling to help their deal with their fears.

This is not to be done lightly. You don't want to scare them, but you don't want them to be suprised by an episode either. I would not share any information about how it impacted the marriage. They need to know that it isn't their fault that their father is sometimes in a bad mood.
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Old 08-09-2013, 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by MommaMouse View Post
My ex was diagnosed with Bipolar years ago and has never taken much if any medication.
Bipolar disorder is not well understood by the general population. Medication is not always required for treatment.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MommaMouse View Post
Over the years we have dealt with the mood swings and sever depression.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. The "mood swings" are they mania? Many people have no idea what defines "mania" in the context of the diagnosis criteria. Hypomanic to manic moods are quite different on the spectrum. Suffice to say, it is not a "mood swing" but, easily identifiable characteristics generally.

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The divorce and custody battles over the past have been terrible but I have ALWAYS tried my best to sheild the kids from as much as I can.
Mental illness doesn't need to be the root cause to court room battles.

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Originally Posted by MommaMouse View Post
My ex has had a good streak for the last year and has had very few 'episodes' but over the last 2 weeks he seems to have gotten worse again and our children (now 7&8) are confused and scared by the way he's acting and things he's doing.
Could you provide some examples of the patterns of behaviour that are causing the children concern?

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I have decided to have the mental illness talk as suggested by a consilor a few years ago.
Really, a counsellor recommended this and that you deliver the information? Highly doubtful that a mental health worker (clinician) would recommend you do this. If any parent has a mood disorder or mental health disturbance the children should not be told by the other parent but, from a neutral third party who can answer their questions. Generally this is done with the consent of the parent in question and their involvement in the theraputic intervention that would bring forward this information.

Also, at their current ages... One would question what anyone would say regarding the situation even if delivered by a professional. I do not recommend you talk to the children about "mental illness".

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Originally Posted by MommaMouse View Post
I'm wondering if anyone else has talked to their kids about a mentally ill parent? Any tips/suggestions?
Don't talk to them about it. Engage the other parent and request that the parent who has the disability discuss it with their treating clinicians and if deemed necessary that those clinicians relay the information in an age appropriate manner to the children if they feel it is a good idea.

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Also I want to make sure to approach it in a manner that helps their relationship with their father not further alienates him.
Well, you engage with the other parent, raise your concerns, ask them about the situation and work towards resolving the problem as a family and with the assistance of properly trained and informed medical professionals.

Good Luck!
Tayken
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Old 08-09-2013, 02:56 PM
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Childrens doctor suggested it come from me when I felt the time was right (he's also on vacation for the next mont) so did the Family association for mental health everywhere and our last child counsillor who also is backlogged and over booked with more pressing cases. So I'm not ask IF I should have the talk, it's like the sex talk it must happen, better that they can talk to me about it then a stranger. I'm asking more for advise from anyone who has had this conversation with their children.
It is not like the "sex talk" at all. It is not a discussion about the child's personal health but, the personal health and well being of their parent.

I am doubtful that the children's doctor would have recommended you take this action. If you are working with F.A.M.E. they have programs that work with children. You should be working within their programs and should have access to this information already.

I would contact F.A.M.E. and work with them.

Individual Support | F.A.M.E.

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Originally Posted by F.A.M.E
When children have inaccurate knowledge about mental illness, they often come up with their own conclusions that can be misleading, untrue, and destructive. Individual support allows children to ask questions about mental illness that they may not be able to in their day to day lives. This model of support is individualized to meet the needs of the child and provides a space that promotes safety, non-judgment, respect, and empathy.

Through artwork, discussion, and other expressive modalities children are given a voice to explore and express their feelings, while learning healthy coping skills. This model of support can also be a great way to transition into the fameKids program by providing a foundation of knowledge and preparation for the group setting. This model can also be utilized as part of the aftercare support plan for the child when he or she completes the famekids program.

For more information, please contact Nicole Levy moc.seilimafrofemaf@lelocin or Gilda Capraro moc.seilimafrofemaf@cadlig.
Good Luck!
Tayken
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Old 08-09-2013, 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by DowntroddenDad View Post
I will strongly suggest you do not have the talk alone with the kids. They will have questions you can't answer, and it may require some counselling for them to understand the dynamics.

Here is a support group in the GTA for families impacted by mental illness:
F.A.M.E. | Family Association for Mental Health Everywhere

I would reach out to them, they can direct you to a resource that can work with them.

I have had some experience with this. My kids have never heard from me that their mom is mentally ill. My girls know their brother is in treatment. My GF's kids know their dad has major mental health problems, but they love him dearly, and they have had counselling to help their deal with their fears.

This is not to be done lightly. You don't want to scare them, but you don't want them to be suprised by an episode either. I would not share any information about how it impacted the marriage. They need to know that it isn't their fault that their father is sometimes in a bad mood.
I agree! ^^^ 100%.

Good Luck!
Tayken
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Old 08-09-2013, 03:39 PM
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Agree with what everyone else has said about having a third party do the "talk" with your kids - for all the reasons given above, plus you don't want to be on the receiving end of accusations that "you told the kids I was crazy!" from the ex or any of his associates. Especially if it's been a difficult divorce, you may not be perceived as a neutral or reliable informant.

Your school board may be another resource, if you can wait until school starts. School boards have psychologists and social workers who are familiar with the issues faced by children with mentally ill parents and could refer you to someone who could help. If your children's school has a social worker, check with him/her; if not, ask the principal or vice-principal to connect you to a psychologist.

If he's doing things which are distressing the kids, you could say, "I don't understand why your father is doing xyz, but I know he loves you very much and would never want to scare you". If he's doing things that actually put the kids in danger, as distinct from just odd behavior, you may need to call CAS.
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Old 08-09-2013, 03:43 PM
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FAME, or other mental health organizations are not avalible in my area, outside the GTA there is very little support for Families of the mentally ill. We have counsillors that deal with children of abuse victims and that is the extent of our support in that regard. I have kept in contact with Gilda who suggested I try to reach out to other parents dealing with mentally ill ex spouses since my children deal with both a divorce and a mental illness. She has helped me look for resorces in my area and have found none. She has suggested some books. Trust me when I say this is not a light decision.

Tayken, some very good points as I had lived with my ex for nearly 12 years and gone to many physciatrists I know all about the finer details of the disease. I agree that most of the general public don't understand the disease, but I don't happen to be one of those. Specifically my ex has Bipolar I which he often gets mixed episodes, followed generally by depression. The last physiciatrist I saw with him suggested a variation of medication, counsilling, and family support since his is a sever case. I couldn't say one way or another if he follows through with this or not.

So far in Life my children have had to deal with being abandoned on many occasions sometimes left with a neighbor sometimes simply not picked up, sometimes they go months without seeing him. These are the easy things. They have been physically hit, pushed and called names, this we delt with through CAS, police and doctors. This generally occurs during high stress times. More recently talking about his death and making the children go to the cemetary. Trying to break into graves yard buildings. Telling the kids he will be dead soon.

These are the major things theres of course lots of little hickups like explaining why he doesn't work (which yes the kids ask about even) why he lives with grandma, why he's not allowed at school. These things come up all the time and the kids blame themselves, they hate him or even worse they've come to expect it from him (like if he doesn't show up it's normal)

Engaging my ex is not an option for many different reasons. My children are scared and ashamed of their father and he is unwilling to do anything to help them. They are alone in dealing with him every other weekend. If we keep 'hiding it' their relationship will not get any better. In talking with Gilda I'm not the only parent to talk to their child about mental illness, there are books aimed at preschoolers covering the subject.
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