The following research project was produced in collaboration with Paige Lewis and Josh Sloan.
In Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, she recounts her life growing up in a survivalist family in backcountry Idaho, where extremist Mormon principles strictly dictated the family’s life. For example, the family didn’t believe in visiting the doctor when they were ill and instead used home remedies made from essential oils and fungi. Additionally, the father and mother believe that education leads to sinfulness and should be avoided at all costs. With an unpredictable, reckless father, and an abusive, sadistic brother named Shawn, Tara lives in an unstable home environment that is far from what is generally considered stable and healthy.
At the disapproval of her family, Tara makes it into college and obtains the education she has always wanted. While attending classes, Tara learns about famous occurrences like the Holocaust and general things like basic geography for the first time, things that average American students would have learned about in grade school. In her psychology class, Tara learns about bipolar disorder which is characterized by sudden manic symptoms in those affected. Tara then realizes that her father meets several symptoms of bipolar disorder and concludes that he might have the disease.
When considering Tara’s toxic home environment, we figured that there was a correlation between Tara’s father’s disorder and the volatile atmosphere in the Westover household. While Tara’s situation is unique in itself, we were curious as to whether a notable amount children of parents with bipolar disorder experience a stressed childhood similar to Tara’s. This inquiry prompted us to investigate the effect that parents with bipolar disorder have on their children’s mental health.
The bibliography below contains four scholarly articles and one video that addresses the concerns accompanying the effects parents with bipolar disorder can have on the mental health of their children. Out of the four scholarly articles, one analyzes the effects that having parents with bipolar disorder have on preschool children while another article analyzes these effects on older adolescent and young adult offspring. A combination of these two articles gives the reader a thorough look into the status of a given child’s condition throughout the upbringing in their parents’ household and on into their young adult lives. The third article offers the reader a reflective perspective of a daughter whose father had bipolar disorder and the effects his mania and depression had on her mental health. Next, our fourth article focuses on fathers with bipolar disorder analyzing the profound effects of the disease on sons specifically. When considering Tara Westover’s story in Educated, Ramchandani and Psychogiou’s research in this article may provide insight into the reasons for why Shawn became such a cruel person. Lastly, we have included a video that gives a first-hand account of an individual who was fathered by a parent with bipolar disorder.
When it comes to the world of psychology and the inner workings of the human brain, many agree that there is still a lot left to learn. We may never know exactly why mental illnesses like bipolar disorder manifest, or how to completely cure someone of said disorder, but we can still do all that we can to address the issues at hand. With that being said, we can’t be certain that every child of parents with bipolar disorder has a troubled home life like Tara, but after analyzing the following sources, one might agree that the chances of Tara’s story repeating are high. Thus justifying our cause to educate ourselves on the world around us while doing our part to bring awareness to diseases like bipolar disorder and their effects they have on the children of today, the generation of tomorrow.
Birmaher, B., M.D., Axelson, D., M.D., Goldstein, B., M.D., Monk, K., R.N., Kalas, C., R.N., Obreja, M., M.S., . . . Kupfer, D., M.D. (2010). Psychiatric disorders in preschool offspring of parents with bipolar disorder: The Pittsburgh bipolar offspring study (BIOS). The American Journal of Psychiatry, 167(3), 321-30. Retrieved from https://login.proxy032.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/220482997?accountid=9935
“The Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study” analyzes the effects parents with bipolar disorder have on the mental health of their preschool children ages two through five. The study compared 121 children of parents with bipolar disorder with 102 children of parents without bipolar disorder using standardized instruments to evaluate the symptoms in the offspring. The study found that the offspring of parents with bipolar disorder had eight times the cases of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD as well as cases of “significantly higher rates of having two or more psychiatric disorders compared to the offspring of the comparison parents” (2010). The authors concluded that preschool offspring of parents with bipolar disorder have significantly increased risks of developing ADHD as well as manic and depressive symptoms compared to children of parents without bipolar disorder and that follow-ups would be required to find out the risks of children with bipolar parents for developing mood disorders later in life.
For those interested in learning or researching about the effects that parents with bipolar disorder have on the mental state of their young children, “The Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study” is a great choice. The authors set up a seemingly strong study evaluating both the children of parents with bipolar disorder and the children of parents without the disorder to create an effective comparison to pinpoint the differences between the two groups. This source would be great compared with another study that looks into the prevalence of mood disorders in older children of parents with bipolar disorder.
Khare, S. R. (2016, September 14). Bipolar Disorder: A Daughter’s Experience. Retrieved December 3, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5394376/.
“A Daughter’s Experience,” tells the first-hand account of a woman whose father had bipolar disorder. In this article, Satya Rashi Khare tells the story of the turbulent relationship between her and her father up until his death. Khare states that during her father’s manic episodes, she can recall him “laughing uncontrollably for what felt like hours” (2016). However, when his mania took a turn for the worse, Khare compares her father to “a school bully” (2016), someone that she would run and hide from. When her father would reach his low point, he would lock himself in his room, sobbing, and entirely ignore the people and the world surrounding him. Between these phases was a state of rage that would spark fights between Khare and her father that only Khare’s mother could break up. Khare’s father eventually passed away from congestive heart failure, forcing her to realize that their spats and differences boiled down to his mental illness rather than genuine hatred.
After Khare’s father’s death, she reflected upon the impact his mental illness had on her, stating that his cycles of manic and depressive episodes resulted in “feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, and injustice, all of which culminated in intense guilt” (2016). She never learned to cope with her own feelings since she believed that “[her] father was sick, not [her]” (2016).
“A Daughter’s Experience” is an ideal resource for researching the impact that parents with bipolar disorder have on their children. Khare tells her own personal story of how her father’s mood swings made her feel. His mood swings left her with an intense amount of guilt before and after his death. Within the final lines of the article, Khare states that “mental illness is not a patient illness but rather a family illness; one that requires a whole family approach to treatment”, as her father’s mental disorder affected not only him but his daughter as well (2016).
Mesman, E., Nolen, W. A., Reichart, C. G., Wals, M., & Hillegers, M. H. J. (2013). The Dutch bipolar offspring study: 12-year follow-up. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(5), 542-9. Retrieved from https://login.proxy032.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1368605609?accountid=9935
“The Dutch Bipolar Offspring Study” is a long-term study in which the authors followed 108 children of parents with bipolar disorder from adolescence to adulthood to determine the onset and prevalence of mood and other mental disorders in the offspring. The subjects were psychiatrically evaluated in one, five, and twelve-year periods. Results saw that 72% of the offspring had developed an axis I disorder which defines any mental disorder other than a personality disorder or intellectual disability. Out of the 72% characterized by an axis I condition, “54% [developed] a mood disorder, and 13% bipolar [developed] spectrum disorders. Only 3% met DSM-IV criteria for bipolar I disorder” (2013). With this data, the authors concluded that children of parents with bipolar disorder are at a high risk of developing a mood disorder while being at a low risk of developing bipolar I disorder like their parents.
The Dutch bipolar offspring study is a valuable source for those looking to learn more about the effects that parents with bipolar disorder can have on their older children’s mental health. The authors make known that there is obvious evidence to support the conclusion that children of parents with bipolar disorder are at risk of also developing a mood disorder. Moreover, the authors conclude that based on their study, children of parents with bipolar disorder do not necessarily have an increased risk of inheriting bipolar I disorder, making this a good source for those looking for support to deny the supposed genetic inheritability of the disease. However, this source does not include a control group in which the authors compare the data from children of parents with bipolar disorder versus children of parents without the disorder raising questions about the basis for their conclusions.
Ramchandani, P. & Psychogiou, L. (2009). Paternal psychiatric disorders and children’s psychosocial development. The Lancet, 374(9690), 646-53. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60238-5
“Paternal psychiatric disorders”, as the name suggests, focuses on fathers with mental disorders and the effect that their mental instability had on their children. This particular study found that children with fathers that have psychiatric disorders “are associated with an increased risk of behavioural and emotional difficulties” (2009). Additionally, it was found that sons of the investigated fathers bear the brunt of their mental unpredictability and are more emotionally and behaviorally affected by it.
This article could potentially be useful to those researching parents with bipolar disorder because the article specifically focuses on fathers with mental illnesses, which is a rare focus of articles pertaining to parental bipolar disorder. The study highlights the emotional effect that the father’s instability has on the children. Additionally, the study compares the effects of maternal psychiatric disorders, providing insight into both sides.
Smith, P. (2014, February 6). Living with a bipolar father. Retrieved December 3, 2019, from
In “Living with a Bipolar Father”, a young man known as Robin describes his experiences growing up with a father affected by bipolar disorder. While he was diagnosed a year before Robin was born, Robin’s father continued to exhibit manic episodes well into Robin’s life. Like Gene Westover, Tara’s father, Robin’s father was also a devout Christian. In fact, his father claims that he first came to Christ during a manic episode where he considered himself to be insane. In addition to this, during this religious experience, he claims that God gave him a vision of what he should do to serve Him best, much like Gene’s revelations about the End Times. Then, in later manic episodes, Robin’s father would bankrupt his own family multiple times, sometimes in pursuit of this vision, sometimes not. In one instance, his dad bought his mom ten thousand pounds, or about thirteen thousand dollars, worth of flowers in the span of a week. Robin even mentions that his dad once tried to buy a Boeing 747 jet and nearly got it. Despite all of these crazy things, Robin says that he finds it rather funny. He isn’t embarrassed by his dad, because he knows that it’s not his dad’s fault. However, on the other hand, he also says that he believes that his father’s antics have led directly to his anxiety disorder. Overall, Robin remarks that his relationship with his father is a complicated one, but nonetheless, he doesn’t harbor any anger towards his father.
Paul Smith’s interview could be useful to anyone who’s looking for a quick but descriptive summary of the stages of bipolar disorder and how to identify a manic episode using Robin’s five-stage list. With Smith growing up with a parent afflicted with bipolar disorder, his interview provides an ideal source for those looking to learn more about a child’s experience in the matter. Additionally, the interview provides a firsthand account of the toll that a family member with bipolar disorder can take on his loved ones. As Robin states, not only did his father nearly drown their family in debt several times, but his manic episodes also may have helped Robin develop an anxiety disorder later on in life. However, Robin and his family learned to cope with these episodes by realizing that his father’s actions weren’t his own, but an effect of his mental illness. It was simply his dad being “ridiculous, with a capital ‘r’ ” (2014).
Westover, T. (2018). Educated. Random House.