The “Hijacked House”: Tips for Parents of Adult Children with Bipolar Disorder Living at Home

Last Updated: 17 Nov 2020
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If your adult child and his or her bipolar disorder symptoms are taking center stage, than you may be living in a “hijacked house.”


It is a bit of a “joke” to talk about how many millennials have moved back in with their parents.  But when the millennial has bipolar disorder, it’s rarely funny at all. If you’re a parent of an adult child with bipolar disorder who is living at home, losing control of your house is common and for many, very unsettling. What do I mean by losing control of your house?

Are you afraid to force a child to do housework as it might make the child more ill?

Does the child have a completely different sleeping schedule than yourself and other members of the family?

Does your child play video games instead of working?

Maybe substances are involved you would rather not have in your presence.

And finally, you might hear this from the child, “I’m an adult now! You can’t tell me what to do! My health care is my own business and not something you need to ask me about all of the time!”

When I work with families, I use the term “The Hijacked House” to describe a situation where the child and the child’s bipolar disorder take center stage and the rest of the family feels out of place and without much of a say in the current living situation. Many times this happens even if people have the best intentions. Bipolar disorder is a serious illness and if a child has moved back home due to the illness, there is a good chance they are in need of help.

But, having an illness is not an excuse for certain behaviors and it is up to parents to take back the home if the situation has become too uncomfortable. I teach people to do this through a conversation. Here is an example:

Jorge, it is great having you home and knowing that you’re safe makes me feel a lot better. I’ve heard you say you want to get back to work and that you might even go back to school. This is great and it got me to thinking about what I want and need in life as well. I realized that while you’re here, I need you to talk with me about your health care so that I can ease my own anxiety over what happened. When I ask questions about your medications or treatment, it is not out of nosiness or trying to pry into your life, it is for myself and my desire to be a part of your health care team.  While you live here, we are a team. This means exchanging information.  We can set up a specific time to talk about this once a week if that works better for you. 

If you are in a situation where a conversation such as this one is not even possible, two things are probably happening: One, your child is too sick to hear you and needs better treatment, or your child is unable to find the empathy and maturity needed to understand that living at home as an adult comes with adult requirements, just as if your child rented a room from someone. In the second case, talking with your child about your needs helps you move towards a more balanced relationship.

None of this is easy. If you’re reading this as a parent and feel like you have been blindsided by your child moving back in, this is normal! Bipolar is complicated and it takes time for everyone to find a balance after a big change. I have seen an adult child moving back home turn in to the absolutely best possible scenario when all of the pieces of the puzzle are seen clearly. This can happen for you, but first, I suggest that you see if your house that you pay for has been hijacked by bipolar disorder and if it’s time to take it back for yourself.

Julie 

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 JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
272 Comments
  1. I have a 42 daughter who has lived with me off and on since 2000. She has two daughters, one who lIves with us when not with her boyfriend. I have had the police called on me on five separate ocassions in five different counties whenever I asked for financial contributions or to ask her to leave. Family and friends took me to task for not showing tough love. Recently she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Bipolar disorder I I. She is not working, not keeping herself clean or helping with household chores or animal care. I read several similar events on here, I have felt like the worst parent ever and at the same time want to just spend my remaining years in tranquility not cleaning up financial and emotional messes. My other child is well adjusted and responsible, he got less of my time due to her neediness and emotional issues. I am overwhelmed with the situation. I could use a support group and answers on how to best help her help herself.
    Sad in Texas.

  2. I haven’t posted for awhile. But my son, 33, struggles with anger, has been getting more and more difficult. He often has threatened my husband and I, but he never has struck us. Two days ago he physically grabbed and punched my husband. This was for no reason except my husband could not answer a question he had. We never know what will set him off. Even being nice can set him off. Fortunately we have the means to get him his own place (barely). It will be a financial hardship to us, but we feel our health is more important than money.
    Relatives are telling us we need to kick him out and let him be homeless–so he will learn. Well…he will not learn. He will only get more angry. And as many of you have said, we can’t bare to put him on the street. Homelessness will just cause more problems for us and for him.
    To offer some encouragement….
    These problems with our mentally disabled children are way more than we can handle on our own. They are way bigger than us, or our ability to figure out.
    In my “lostness” (loss of hope, loss of what to do)–I pray a lot, and also read the Bible. It give me some hope. And inside this book, I read about people and situations that are big and complex and read about dysfunctional people and families like my own. I’ve discovered that we have a God who wants to be near us and help us. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. He loves us as we are. He wants to comfort us and help us. He is there, if you call out to him!

  3. I really do appreciate everyone’s experience. Its truly heartbreaking, however, what might the answers be. I know that there is the saying, “misery loves company”, however. Instead of helping/enabling/extending the dance mix of pain….what’s the answer?

    I have a wonderful so who left home to be with a girl who was married. Turns out my son wanted to be part of some polyamorous nonsense. He came to a couples financial rescue and then, the husband walked out after 2 years and left my boy with his bipolar wife with his financial mess, where they were evicted.

    Yes it gets worse, the girl took them to live in the grandparents home, only to be kicked out for being dependent on my son and no longer wanting their home hijacked. My dear son, who believes he’s in love, is saddled with an emotional time bomb with suicidal tendencies. I have pumped thousands into what was supposed to be a normal household. I will not subsidize such lives yet I don’t want my son to be homeless with no future,

    1. Thank you

  4. Hi, is there a group or organization of parents who support each other when they are being abused by their own adult 37 year old woman child? I am 57 years old, raised my child as a single mother. I have 2 grandchildren 9 year old and a 7 year old who has down syndrome due to her unfortunately doing drugs during her pregnancy. In July, 2020, she purchased a new vehicle and did not trade her existing vehicle because she wanted me to use it to help her with my grandchildren. Therefore, I paid car insurance and drove my grandchildren to doctor appointments, pick them up from bus stop, shopping and whatever else she needed me to help out. In which I enjoyed tremendously especially being with my grandchildren. Recently, I was on vacation at the beach and received a phone call from the police department saying there is a warrant for my arrest for “stealing” my daughter’s car that I’ve been driving for 5 months! Really, so when I got back in town, I went to the police department to get my summons to appear in court. And returned her car. I appeared in court on the date listed along with the summons paperwork and said I was never served and was not on the court calendar, so they instructed me to go next door to the courthouse to get served by a Deputy Sherriff and return for sentencing. Judge said I was looking at 4 months in jail, and what do I want to do hire a court appointed attorney, etc. I said my daughter is not here and want to represent myself and want it dismissed. Which they scheduled another court hearing? Why? This is not the only time she has done this to me, she gave me a concussion by hitting me, took me to court accusing me that I went to the bank to cash my grandchild’s disability check which is a Federal Crime, I would never do anything of the sort, there are more things that she’s done. It would take a book to write. I’m so hurt, depressed, can’t sleep and feel so sorry for other parents who take the abuse from their children whom I know I raised her very well, problem was I spoiled her. If my Mother was still alive, I probably would not be sending this message because I was not raised the way these children are today because she wouldn’t allow such a thing. However, we parents can’t tell or suggest our children what to do because then we parents would be the ones in trouble. Anyway, thank you for listening. Again, are there any Lawyers, organizations of Parents who support each other when their own children threaten to kill them, beat them, poison them, etc.?? Reaching out for help. Thank you.

    1. I completely understand what you’re going through. My son is 38 and has been suffering from mental illness (Bipolar 1 with extreme manic episodes) since he was 14. I used my inheritance to buy my son a house because he cannot pass background checks to rent apartments. He has many, many misdemeanors and has spent a lot of time in jail, including long periods of solitary confinement.

      He also has a son who I’ve been caring for at that house. I had primary physical custody of my grandson during my son’s year-long jail sentence (convicted of destroying hospital property while an involuntary inpatient). After my son was released, he petitioned the court to regain physical custody and the child’s mother let him. I told the judge that my son would have more manic episodes and totally destroy my grandson’s stability. The judge said he didn’t have a “crystal ball” so he gave the child back to my son. For about three years, my son was taking ok care of the child with a lot of help from me.

      Then, starting in March, my son’s condition deteriorated and he was using and selling cocaine. When he uses cocaine, the mania gets off the charts and then the mania takes on a life of its own and continues even if he’s confined in jail or a hospital. My son went on a rampage in August, broke into my house when I wasn’t there, threw furniture and other belongings outside the house, and forced my daughter and son-in-law to flee my home where they had been staying since the pandemic started. I got calls from my neighbors that my son was acting bizarrely, so I called the police and met them at my home. They brought my son to the hospital without much of a struggle.

      At the hospital, my son was very aggressive, and he has serious reactions to anti-psychotic medications so they couldn’t use these. As a last resort, they basically put him in a drug-induced coma for two weeks in the ICU. In a matter of days after regaining consciousness, he was released. I told the hospital he had physical custody of his son and it wasn’t safe for him to be out. The social worker at the hospital must have called Child Protective Services, and they started an investigation. I am in the process of trying to change the custody order so that the mother gets custody. I would love custody myself, but the system always prefers the parents, and the mother has no abuse or neglect charges.

      I have a restraining order and have stopped all contact with my son. A neighbor across the street from the house I rent to my son called me and told me the house is “trashed”. Apparently, there is stuff all over the yard and the porch is broken. I had been a cute house and gave my son some stability. Now, I have damage to fix at my own home and damage at the house he rents from me. He stopped giving me rent in August so I’m out that money as well. I’m heartbroken – my family and finances are destroyed.

      People keep telling me I have to stop “enabling” my son, but I wonder how they’d feel if they had to throw their child out onto the streets. It’s frankly infuriating and totally unhelpful. It’s not live “tough love” will suddenly make a psychotic person realize the error of their ways! My son has grandiose delusions and is an altered state. I know I have to evict him from that house because he’s unable to care for it, but making him homeless will not help him in the least. It’s something I have to do, but to pretend like stopping “enabling” him will improve things is simply a fantasy. Maybe this approach would work with some people but not with floridly psychotic people.

      The mental health laws need to be changed so that people who are actively psychotic can be committed to a psychiatric hospital. Currently, the law is that as long as a person isn’t imminently dangerous to themselves or others, they cannot be kept against their will. So my son keeps going into the hospital and then out in a couple of days. Why can a old person with Alzheimer’s be picked up for wandering around and acting bizarrely, but a psychotic person cannot be?

      At this point, I am hoping my son gets arrested so he’ll be off the streets for some time. The mental health system in this country is broken and the law needs to be changed. I understand that people have rights, but is it humane to let humans wander the streets in a psychotic state where they cannot care for themselves? When I stop “enabling” my son, he will be under a bridge somewhere, in jail, or dead.

      1. Hello, I am so sorry what you have gone through and continue to go through. I’m in the same battle. I’m a 58 year old male with 19 year old manic depressive bi polar son living under our roof. All I can offer i understand. My heart hears your pain. A good day for him is a good day for us. The son we brought into this world, who we loved (still love) provided for and gave and did (and continue to) everything for is someone we have grown to hate, is toxic to be around. The son we once had is long gone. We are now left with a man who works minimally to make enough money to spend on drugs and alcohol. Someone who sucks the air out of a room. Someone who wants to blame his problems on everyone but himself. We have spend thousands of dollars on him for treatment facilities that he ” worked ” to avoid law charges. We have called the law. Gotten restraining orders. Given him a new vehicle. The list goes on. It has taken a toll on our health , our marriage. He has abused and damaged our home. I’m sure you get this. Sorry for going on my rant. But I just wanted to say I do understand. I do feel your pain. I pray one day this will end for you with whatever the Lord wills. You are not along in this struggle. Just wanted to let you know there’s someone who understands. RC

  5. My 25 year old son lives in our basement and has pretty much destroyed all of the furniture down there. He has an explosive temper and do not want him here anymore but he does not have any friends or family other then us. I have a 15,10 and 2 year old sons and it is not healthy at all for them. He tells me he is going to kill himself and I can live with it. He resents all of us. No matter what I do it is never enough. He works but it is not enough to pay for a place to live. He is rude, angry and always right. Years of counseling has not helped at all. I can not keep doing this with him but the alternative is him on the streets waiting for the police to make notifications that jumped in front of a train. I have called the police and he denies being suicidal and they leave. Sorry this so long but I have to find somewhere for him to go.

    1. I wanted to tell you my 10 year sad story but i just can’t,
      I don’t have the energy, bottom line there is an imbalance that they have to work through with professional help that is pricey which you may consider but they may blame every one but themselves and think they don’t have a problem . The sad part is there is not a lot of available resources out for these problems because it costs the government so much money… frustrating
      Honestly if you can get enough friends and family together that truly want to see this person get better as a full group like an intervention so they know they matter is worth a try. The old saying it takes a village and I believe that so best
      wishes.

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