Help For Parents That Allow Adult Children To ‘Hijack’ Their Home

Last Updated: 17 Nov 2020

Although it is fearful and confusing to face the reality of an adult child’s bipolar, avoidance is not the answer. The only way to get a child the proper help is to create a plan to get them into treatment.

I’ve worked as a coach for parents who have a child with bipolar disorder as well as co-occuring disorders such as psychosis and anxiety, often with substance use, for over a decade now.

The situation is often out of control and parents start to lead double lives. They go to work and still try to act as though life is ok, while the home is a pressure cooker all due to the illness of one child. Siblings are deeply affected, as are grandparents and other relatives. I call this the hijacked house.

Ending the hold an illness has on your child, and ultimately on your home, is possible. I teach a path that is probably very different than what you expect. I want to teach you that it’s only when you decide that enough is enough that life changes. No, this doesn’t mean kicking out a child. It doesn’t mean your child becomes homeless. It means you get honest with yourself and find peace in yourself so that you can change your situation.

Are you ready for a painful read? It’s ok if you get angry by reading this article. My goal is simple: I want us to be honest about the truly terrible symptoms that untreated bipolar disorder and psychosis can unleash on a family home.

Are you avoiding the reality of a child’s mental illness and if so, what can be done?


Avoidance means putting off taking action on something that is causing stress in the moment. Even if the problem will build and build and create far more problems in the future, the current feelings created when you think of making a change are so powerfully upsetting and painful, you will avoid the current pain at the detriment to an entire future.

When I work with parents, there’s a great tendency to avoid taking action in the moment due to the incredible fear, confusion and pain that comes up when the parent finally faces the reality of a serious mental illness in a child. The parent mind goes straight to armageddon. 

He will be on the streets!
She will leave the house and never come back. 

These are powerful and scary thoughts. This reaction to having a child in the house who is not healthy is normal. It’s human. There is a part of our brain called the amygdala. It’s the self preservation part of the brain. It’s the fight, fight or freeze. It’s our animal nature. Sometimes it creates a slow motion sensation. Sometimes it creates a fear rush of adrenaline in the mouth that is so strong you taste metal. When parents face a crisis, the amygdala often takes over and they freeze. This creates an avoidance to reality and allows a situation to fester within the home. 

While in this freeze state, the fontal lobes then minimize the situation.

I could go on and on here as I have been on both sides. There is no judgement in what I write. I have lived it!

Facing a true crisis in a child doesn’t always bring out reasonable behavior in parents.

Parents will minimize to protect the child. This is a natural behavior that well meaning parents use to protect children. Parents will refuse outside help in order to present the facade that everything is ok. (We can handle it ourselves! It’s not as bad as I thought. We are not that kind of family!) Parents will overly focus on the ill child and not be there for the child that is able to take care of herself!

I have been there. So please know I write this with compassion, not judgement.

My story

In 1994, when my partner was manic and psychotic, I took him home with me from the hospital because I missed him so much. His team said he needed a state hospital. I simply couldn’t do it! A STATE HOSPITAL! He is not that kind of person! So when they said he could no longer stay in the private hospital, I TOOK HIM HOME.

He was so sick.

My brother who was his legal guardian and I put him on a 24 hour watch. He could not be alone ever.

While all of this was happening, I refused to see that he was too sick to function. I minimized the seriousness of our crisis. I thought I could handle his bipolar at home.

The day he slipped away from my brother was the day that I woke up and I have stayed WOKEN UP ever since.

I put him in a car and rushed him back to the hospital. When I got him back into a psych bed, I physically collapsed in the hall. The adrenaline left my body in a rush once he was safe.

I was in avoidance of the reality of how sick he was. I was in fight and freeze mode for months.

I share this story to let you know that I have NO judgment if you are trying to take care of a really sick person at home. No judgement at all. Our brain tries to save us from reality. It freezes us into a state of avoidance. It’s as though we become blind to what is happening all around us. I wrote Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner ten years after going through this terrible experience. He survived. We survived and there is hope.

The only way to get a child help is to wake up from this brain freeze of avoidance and create a plan to get a child into treatment. It’s the only answer. I was able to help my partner when I faced the seriousness of his bipolar disorder. Before that, I was all love and emotions and believe me, that is never enough.

I want to encourage you to do what I finally did all of those years ago and what I now teach to all of my clients and audience members when I speak in public:

  1. Face facts. If a person can’t function on their own, they are too sick to be at home.
  2. If someone could hurt themselves or others, they can’t be in your home.
  3. Bipolar and psychotic disorders don’t go away on their own. EVER.
  4. Nothing gets better through avoiding the situation.

Action is the only thing that works if you are in a crisis. Not therapy. Not asking for 10 different options. Not wishing or hoping things will get better. We never do this if someone has a heart attack and we simply can’t do this if someone is seriously mentally ill. I want to stress that blaming yourself for bad parenting or for being blind is fine for a few days, but then you have to let this go as well. It doesn’t serve anyone.

Please hear me when I say that avoidance never works. You WILL be confronted with the same problem over and over again. The problem will get bigger and bigger. Avoidance creates more and more illness. It breaks down loving families.

I want you to override the amygdala, focus on the future and make a decision in the present that saves lives.

You can create a different future. Mental illness is treatable. There is a path out of your current situation. It starts when avoidance ends.

Wake up now and face the current situation in your home and your life. Open yourself to change. Know that it’s going to be scary for awhile as you get help, but know that it ALWAYS gets better when reality is faced and the person who is ill finds treatment.

Taking care of the problem now creates peace in your future.

You can do this!


About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at and
  1. Sounds good. But truth is – even when you “get help” it helps very little. You are limited on who to turn to because of the cost and medicaid dictates who you can see. You can’t make adult children “do anything”. Even when their lives are spiraling and turning to dust in front of your eyes. Even when they are taking you down with them. And turning away from your child is not an option. Even if a parent manages to get them out of the house, they never leave your brain or heart and you end up just as sick. Mental health should be FREE. it should include the family. A parent who is desperately trying to help should have access, despite HIPA. Despite all your good intentions – there is no true answers or help.

    1. Your words are exactly what I was thinking. I have dealt with this scenario for 17 years with my son. Even in the best of circumstances help is fleeting, sporadic, and minimal – if they take advantage of what is being offered. The reality is mental health issues are dismissed and minimized by healthcare, in general, perhaps because of lack of knowledge, costs and poor outcomes. I have experienced this journey many times over with my adult child having insurance and no insurance…the result is the same. This is a disease process that is ongoing, needs constant monitoring, and regular follow up/interventions. Try meeting those needs without insurance. My son’s latest go around resulted in a discharge from an ER that said follow up with primary care physician. He has no insurance, no primary care physician, and therefore no psychiatric interventions. This is the reality of a lot of people with mental health issues.

  2. My son is 28 and was diagnosed with Bipolar at age 17 after a psychotic episode. He has been admitted to the hospital more than 30 times. I have called the police many times and have been terrified every time that he will get hurt or even shot. I am wondering if a short term hospitalization is even worth it at this point, because there are no long term resources and he simiply stops taking his meds when he is discharged. He understandably has some PTSD about others calling the police on him. He has been in the care of an ACT team, which is supposed to be a wrap around mental health treatment team, but he’s chosen not to utilize them and the team has not been nearly as available as advertised during periods of crisis. Instead of the ACT team, I am paying for a private psychiatrist, but now he is ‘declining’ the medications his psychiatrist has prescribed. He is accepting only supplements and CBD. He is becoming intrusive, aggressive and increasingly paranoid, and I’m considering going to the coroner for commitment papers. I’ve told him that he has one week to come up with a plan for his medication with his psychiatrist or move out. Please pray for me that I have the strength to do it. I am terrified for him, but we’ve witnessed him spiral down so many times that it seems like a slow-motion train wreck.

  3. I have a 39 yo daughter that doesn’t live with us but barely functions on her own and only with help from her family. She is in complete denial and blames me for taking her to a psychiatrist 10 years ago and “ruining” her life. She is adamant about not taking any drugs (she has never taken drugs, smokes…not once), though she did see a therapist once for 8 months. In her manic states, she goes through money, has irresponsible sex, and has fights with those she loves which is the worst part because she needs those relationships. She is going to end up without friends, work, or housing and that is REAL. I’m at a point of having to draw boundaries for myself and my husband and let her feel the impact of her illness so MAYBE she will come to me or someone asking for help. I am tired at 63 being her punching bag and not seeing any movement forward. This article is addressing those that are either so ill they don’t have a choice or they are not in denial. At a loss of what to do but protect ourselves emotionally and financially. I could use a support group for parents of adult children with bipolar that are in denial of their illness. Do you know of any? monica

  4. I’ve been in that situation too, and it feels as though you’re drowning with no lifeguards on the beach. Part of the brokenness comes with the appalling lack of help available from the mental health community, whose hands are largely tied by HIPAA laws. And then, even if you could find a good psychiatrist who would assist, it’s often completely unaffordable and not covered by insurance. What a great world this would be if help was easy to come by!

    1. I could certainly identify with this lady. My 35 year old adopted daughter was diagnosed with bipolar at 11. She now has two illegitimate children of different fathers with no child support. She lives in a house we bought in which we asked for a minimal rent payment. She hates us all. her 14 year old daughter is living with us, removed by CPS for verbal abuse and trauma. I have tried and tried to help her. My son has hated us for this. She does have to own up to her behavior as she has no one, not even a friend of any kind in her life. Just sits in the house, smoking all day, drinking cokes and doing weed. So sad. But she has to make the change, ready to reach out for help.

    2. Do you have a local NAMI association in your area? How about therapy for yourself?

  5. Interesting article. I can relate to many things written in it.

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