Family environment patterns in families with bipolar children

Cecilia Belardinelli, John P. Hatch, Rene L. Olvera, Manoela Fonseca, Sheila C. Caetano, Mark Nicoletti, Steven Pliszka, Jair C. Soares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: We studied the characteristics of family functioning in bipolar children and healthy comparison children. We hypothesized that the family environment of bipolar children would show greater levels of dysfunction as measured by the Family Environment Scale (FES). Methods: We compared the family functioning of 36 families that included a child with DSM-IV bipolar disorder versus 29 comparison families that included only healthy children. All subjects and their parents were assessed with the K-SADS-PL interview. The parents completed the FES to assess their current family functioning. Multivariate analysis of variance was used to compare the family environment of families with and without offspring with bipolar disorder. Results: Parents of bipolar children reported lower levels of family cohesion (p < 0.001), expressiveness (p = 0.005), active-recreational orientation (p < 0.001), intellectual-cultural orientation (p = 0.04) and higher levels of conflict (p < 0.001) compared to parents with no bipolar children. Secondary analyses within the bipolar group revealed lower levels of organization (p = 0.031) and cohesion (p = 0.014) in families where a parent had a history of mood disorders compared to families where parents had no history of mood disorders. Length of illness in the affected child was inversely associated with family cohesion (r = - 0.47, p = 0.004). Limitations: Due to the case-control design of the study, we cannot comment on the development of these family problems or attribute their cause specifically to child bipolar disorder. Conclusion: Families with bipolar children show dysfunctional patterns related to interpersonal interactions and personal growth. A distressed family environment should be addressed when treating children with bipolar disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-305
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Bipolar disorder
  • Children
  • Family environment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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