Providing online self-management support to parents with bipolar disorder leads to improvements in parenting and child behaviour, according to UK researchers.
Such an approach has the potential to deliver an “accessible, non-stigmatising intervention” to bipolar parents at low cost, said the study authors from Lancaster University.
“Parenting stress and confidence improved significantly”
They also highlighted that it required “very little professional support” and could be offered as a supplement to current services “without significant additional investment”.
The researchers, from the university’s Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research, noted that parents with bipolar disorder experienced additional challenges due to mood driven fluctuations in communication, impulse control and motivation.
For their study, they recruited 97 parents with bipolar disorder who had children aged between three and 10 years old.
The parents were split into two groups, with one being offered access to an online tool called the Integrated Bipolar Parenting Intervention (IBPI).
The researchers said: “IBPI is a new online intervention for parents with bipolar disorder with young children, combining self-management information about bipolar disorder with parenting information in an interactive format and is the only online intervention of this type we are aware of.”
The IBPI is comprised of 16 modules lasting half an hour, each looking at different aspects of parenting and supported by video and audio material.
“Changes in mood make the delivery of consistent parenting more difficult”
The site aimed to support parents in two ways, including to help them learn more both about their bipolar disorder and how best to self-manage it, building on their own personal strengths.
Secondly, it was intended to enhance their current parenting skills in order to encourage desirable behaviour in their children.
According to the researchers, child behaviour, parenting sense of competence and parenting stress improved significantly in the group using online support for the whole of the 48 weeks of the study.
The retention rate to the end of the trial was 90% across both arms. For the IBPI group, 75% of participants accessed the bipolar self-help modules and 53% accessed the parenting modules.
“Child behaviour problems improved significantly during access to IBPI sustained throughout follow-up,” said the study authors.
In addition, they said: “Parenting stress and confidence improved significantly during the intervention, sustained through follow-up.”
They added: “Dysfunctional parenting also improved during IBPI but more marginally as difference in slopes was not significant. Household disturbance did not change in either arm.”
Lead author Professor Steven Jones said: “People with bipolar disorder may find that their changes in mood make the delivery of consistent parenting more difficult than for parents without bipolar disorder.
Parents with bipolar disorder ‘benefit from self-help tool’
“This online parenting support programme combines self-management strategies for bipolar disorder,” he said. “It looks at the impact of extremes of mood on parenting and how to maintain consistency in parenting.”
As this intervention requires very little professional support, it could be offered as a supplement to current services without significant additional investment, suggested the researchers.
They acknowledged that further research would be needed to explore whether the beneficial impacts of the intervention translated into reduced risks of longer-term mental health problems on top of the shorter term improvements in current child behaviour.
“IBPI is a feasible intervention with positive outcomes for parenting and child behaviour,” said the study authors in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
“A future definitive trial is needed to confirm current effects, explore possible impact on parental mood and determine cost-effectiveness,” they added.