Support Groups

Caregivers of children with bipolar disorder often suffer from emotional, physical and financial stress. A primary source of emotional stress is that of watching their child suffer from rejection by peers, school failure, rage attacks, suicide attempts and of coping with the total unpredictability of their child's behaviour. Families can become homebound out of dread of other public episodes of rages and obscenities in the ill child. A raging child is a risk for the physical safety of other family members; he or she may damage property or run away into the street impulsively. Therefore, the caregivers of these children often live in a state of hypervigilance. Another source of emotional stress for these caregivers is navigating uncharted territories, i.e. new systems with their own language and rules. For example, many children with bipolar disorder require special education services or get involved in the juvenile justice system. This can leave the caregiver confused, misunderstood and overwhelmed. Similarly, caregivers report negative experiences when dealing with mental health professionals [121].

As a result of stress associated with their role, caregivers may experience physical problems like sleep disturbances, headaches and exhaustion. Unfortunately financial strain is a given for these families. Insurance coverage is rarely comprehensive, and medications and intensive treatment modalities are expensive. It is estimated that 11% of children with special health care needs do not have any insurance [122]. In addition to the above-mentioned sources of stress, these families suffer isolation because of stigmatization, which may lead to almost total social exclusion from family gatherings, church and community events.

Participation in a support group can alleviate caregiver burden [123,124]. Also, members of parent support groups report more utilization of information and services than non-members [125]. In today's mental health environment, peer-led self-help or mutual help support groups complement the care provided by mental health professionals. More than 70% of Americans suffering from a diagnosable behavioural or mental health disorder will never receive specialized mental health care and instead will rely on these types of groups [126].

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