Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Episode #90: Bipolar Disorder in Kids: Tips for Parents

Raising a child with special needs is a constant challenge, and when bipolar disorder enters the mix, it can feel overwhelming. But there is help and support available. In this episode, I’m talking with George Brooks, a mental health advocate and fat
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Understanding Bipolar Disorder in Kids

Show Notes:

Raising a child with special needs is a constant challenge, and when bipolar disorder enters the mix, it can feel overwhelming. But there is help and support available. In this episode, I’m talking with George Brooks, a mental health advocate and father who shares his own experiences and valuable tips for navigating this journey.

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  • Email: gbrooks[@]
  • Phone: 214-810-6518

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Music Used:

“LazyDay” by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.



George Brooks is a mental health advocate and entrepreneur with a powerful story of resilience. Diagnosed with mental illness at a young age, George has navigated a challenging path that included abuse, weight struggles, health issues, addiction, and the complexities of divorce and raising a son with mental illness.

Despite these hurdles, George has emerged as a beacon of hope. He is the CEO of a non-profit organization, a life coach, and a public speaker who inspires others through his lived experience. George is also a writer and producer, actively sharing his message through various creative avenues.

As a Black entrepreneur with a background in business ventures, George demonstrates the power of perseverance and the importance of mental health advocacy within diverse communities.

Episode #90: Bipolar Disorder in Kids: Tips for Parents

Understanding Bipolar Disorder in Kids

(Recorded March 12, 2024)

Full Transcript of Interview:

Raising a child with special needs is a constant challenge, and when bipolar disorder enters the mix, it can feel overwhelming. In this episode, I’m talking with George Brooks, a mental health advocate and father who shares his own experiences and valuable tips for navigating this journey.

Welcome to the Water Prairie Chronicles, a podcast created for special needs parents and those who want to support them. I’m your host, Tonya Wollum, and I’m glad you’re here. This episode is sponsored by the Water Prairie Etsy shop where you can find Tales and a Tote story kits for young children and printable storytelling journals and activity books to help encourage older children to enjoy writing their own stories.

Check out the shop at and be sure to sign up for the Water Prairie newsletter for special Etsy promo codes. Now, let’s get back to the episode.

Tonya: So George, welcome to Water Prairie. I appreciate you taking the time to come out and meet with me today.

George: I appreciate you having me on. Thank you very much.

So George, we’ve been talking a little bit about mental health and I’m excited because I have not had anyone that’s been able to come on the podcast yet to address this topic. We’ve talked about different types of physical disabilities, of invisible disabilities, learning disabilities, autism, but this is, this is a very important one and it’s a huge one in our country.

Can you give us a little introduction of who you are and what you’re doing now?

My name is George P. Brooks. I’m the CEO and founder of Metta Association, a nonprofit that I started about six years ago to deal with mainly black male mental health, but I help everyone. We also fight recidivism and deal with promoting healthy fatherhood.

My story about 8 7, I started understanding that I was having some mental health issues. My diagnosis bipolar DID and PTSD so life for me was growing life for me growing up was interesting Dealing with a mental illness that at that time they didn’t even diagnose people under 18 with bipolar, right? so I was Often my treatment was not aligned with what was gonna be best for me because the knowledge just wasn’t there at the time So I went through about a 10 year cocaine addiction.

I went through Divorce trauma pretty much any kind of trauma you can go through Almost. But I decided at a certain point to not let that determine who I was. And so that’s why I started my nonprofit. And that’s why I do all the public speaking and things that I do to try to use my trauma to try to help other people.

And through that, uh, try to heal myself as well.

So you mentioned that you were diagnosed at age seven with bipolar?

They didn’t diagnose, but that’s when, you know, going back, looking at it now and talking to like, yeah, you know, that’s probably what it was. But at the time, they didn’t, they didn’t diagnose it and people that, you know, they just speak, it was depression.

So, you know, back during that time, it was really like the 90s. Okay, I was a teenager, um, it was more, so I managed to throw an antidepressants at everything. Everybody was on Prozac. Everybody was on Lexapro. Uh, there, there wasn’t the, the forethought into different conditions and how the, uh, that people individually until today,


Well, because what I’m thinking back is I graduated from college and 87, but just before you would have been diagnosed. And that’s like a crucial year because we had autism was now called autism. It wasn’t before that. We’ve learned that through some of our interviews. ADHD was a new thing. Never had existed before.

Now it’s, it’s out there. We’d talked about different learning styles where everyone doesn’t learn the same. So it’s like all of a sudden in our country, at least I think around the world. We were starting to recognize there’s more to the picture than what we thought it was,

right? Especially with the advent of, uh, the Internet and social media as well.

I mean, you know, just the wealth of information, but also the wealth of misinformation. Yes, so, you know. I think we’re seeing more attention brought on mental health because of the pandemic and what it really did to all of us. I think you got people thinking about their own mental health. I think you got people thinking, well, there’s nothing wrong with me.

Imagine what somebody that has an issue is dealing with. And when that happened, you saw more focus on mental health. You had the George Floyd, which was, you know, stimulating to a lot of us in the black culture. Because we do have to understand, too, that with those cultural differences, Uh, they’re going to be different in terms of mental health, how it’s perceived, you know, my community is perceived as a joke, not necessarily a joke, but as a weakness, as a flaw.

And what I hope to do in my work is to get people talking. And I feel like once we have those conversations, things will open up, you know, all revolutions started with a speech.

I was going to say, because. All these things that I mentioned, you’ve got autism, ADHD and all, they were hidden. If you, I mean, back when I was growing up, it didn’t kind of fit in.

No one mentioned it. You would hide it or you, that child would just kind of stay home because it was almost like a stigma against the family. But today we talk more. We, it’s that, I think I don’t, it’s not gone yet, but I think we’re getting closer to at least opening the door so that we can see that this is just a normal part of. Of life.

And every family is touched by this somehow, whether they want to admit it or not. It’s out. It’s there.

Right. And I want people to think more in terms of this to, you know, if you don’t have a diagnosable condition, think about how hard like, yeah. And imagine dealing with that with a, with a, with a mental illness, one that is not apparent that people can’t see.

So when you’re going through something, people can’t always say. Okay. A lot of times when we have a mental illness, we learn how to lie, manipulate, um, and cover our emotions. Now, the lying and manipulation comes from this. It comes from protecting yourself. I could see that. You to lying about how you’re feeling.

What’s wrong with you? Oh, nothing. What’s going on with you? Oh, nothing. Or you learn to manipulate people to get them to leave you alone.


You know, there’s so much involved in that. And I found that especially with, with, uh, teenagers dealing with mental illness, that’s when they really learn those skills that can be inherently negative.

So that’s why we need to do more with our young people too. And I’m really proud of this younger generation because they are a lot more talkative when it comes to mental health and a lot more understanding.

They do seem to be. Yeah,

it’s more so kind of my generation that’s a little bit slow on the uptake, but you know, I think it’ll happen in time because something did a fix all of it.

And you mentioned the internet earlier. The young people today, they grew up with the internet,


So they’ve had access to, you know, I’m feeling kind of off. They can research that and see what it, what might this mean.

We’ll find other people going through the same thing.


Yeah. You know, so that that’s, that’s a good thing.

Uh, just had to be wary of misinformation. I’m a, I’m a strong advocate for therapy and medication. Yeah, I feel like it’s part of it. I’m not 1 of these people that’s going to sit up and tell you, oh, don’t take medication. They have side effect. Well, every medication has side effect. Right? The thing with psych means you have to remember that you either take about a month or 2 to really get in your system.


Or the side of this kind of a bait. But you have to give it a shot. It’s not meant to, it’s not going to cure your mental illness. Be taking my medication does not mean I will not cycle. I will, but it helps me maintain a certain balance to where those instances aren’t as bad.

Your medication

is meant to manage, not cure.

Does it help you cope with those cycles? Is that, or does it lessen the severity of them?

A little bit of both, actually. Yeah. Yeah. It’s a little bit, they’re a little bit easier to manage. With my bipolar, I’m a rapid cycler. So it may go from high to low, like I could be sitting right, talking right now. It may go from high to low, high to low.

Okay. Oh, wow. So you just have to manage it. You know, it’s, it’s like, it’s, it’s, it’s almost like trying to drive a car with no brakes. That’s what being bipolar is, driving a car with no brakes, You might go up a hill slow, but when you come down a hill is fast. The mania is something else.

So we’ve mentioned bipolar.

Would depression be in that same category as far as mental health? Because I think a lot of our parents may be able to relate to depression.

Right. Well, well, depression is actually a part of bipolar, so I’m very familiar with it. But bipolar, uh, well bipolar is you have, uh, mood swings. You may go from mania, which is elevated speech, uh, hyperactivity.

It comes across as being really happy to being depressed. I think my longest depression was one year. Wow. One year. I really didn’t leave the house for about a year.

Wow. Okay.

So, um, but with depression, depression, I think is a lot more common. I think the, I think it may be overly diagnosed just because it’s typically diagnosed when somebody is going through something.

So make sure that, you know, you, when you talk to your clinician that you’re, you’re giving him the best information to, to treat you. A lot of times in mental illness, we don’t always tell the doctor everything we’re thinking or everything that’s going on because we don’t want to get through all this.

That helps for those Covid kids. Right. Right. That’s what you need. That’s what you need. Yeah. Don’t be afraid to go inpatient

when your doctor should be a safe place.

Right. Your doctor should be a safe place. A lot of times with mental illness, we recognize too when it’s like, you know what? I think I need a little stay and we, we need to not be afraid to ask for those times.

One thing that I, I think I have interesting perspective of, I was a child raised. While growing up with the mental illness by my parents and I’m raising it. He’s 19 now. Okay, I’m raising a son that’s bipolar.

And how old was he when he was diagnosed? So both of you were about the same age. Okay.

As far as parenting a child with mental illness patients.

Oh, I’ll tell you the most important thing. It’s not your fault. That’s the main thing. I could tell a parent raising a child with any disability or any mental illness. It’s not your fault because we all go through that moment to where we’re thinking, man, what did I do? Or this is some idea. Right? What am I doing wrong?

This has happened. Yeah, we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it. So if you don’t sit up there and be self deprecating and beat ourselves up over our child’s condition. You know, we can use the energy on trying to educate ourselves more about their condition in terms of being their best advocate because as a parent, our first job is to be our child’s advocate.

So, uh, and that’s even if you’re without a disability, so we can focus the energy elsewhere, but don’t beat yourself up. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t listen to other family members. Surround yourself with positive people. Somebody’s negative, I don’t care if it’s your mother.

Well, that’s something I wanted to ask you.

How do we build that supportive community around ourselves?

There are different groups. Uh, if you work with your child’s, um, physician, uh, their doctor, uh, online, Facebook, you can find groups everywhere and network. So, you know, Before, uh, we were, we were operating under the mindset of that family was everything.

Our family is our support system. That ain’t necessary.

Well, some, some families aren’t connected anymore.

I mean, even if you are connected, if they were given a negative vibe, there’s some people you take care of your child that you need to get away from. Because negativity kills. Is this tough managing the medication and you have to, okay, are they having side effects?

Is it working? Is it not?

Well a growing child, it’s going to be changing to right now.

Now I’m dealing with transitioning him into adulthood with a mental illness. So it’s like, wow, I appreciate that. I mean, I actually cried about it one night because I was, I’m so

I can only imagine

worried about because I know what he’s going to face.

So I’m just trying to do the best I can to make sure he’s prepared, you know, economically, spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally, you know, I’m just doing the best I can because he’s over 18 now. I can no longer raise him at 18. All I can do is guide him. I tell him you’re 19. Now you need to be on your own.

You need to do this. You need to do that because my job as a parent, as a father to me is for the day that I’m not here. Yeah. And people don’t understand the pressure of raising a child with a disability. I’ve gotten all the strange looks. I’ve gotten all the, what did you do? I’ve got all, you’re not doing this right.

None of us as parents know what we’re doing. We’re just kind of going off of Societal influence and what we were raised by. So there’s no template or handbook because every child is different, you know, and especially you throw in a disability because we have to factor in how their child feels living with a disability.

They have their own frustrations. They have their own fears, you know, and things like that. And I know with my son, him watching me with my bipolar, it was doubly so, but we found ways to cope. Like one thing we always do, it’s like we can feel if each other’s having a baby. So it’s like, Okay, it’s a certain song.

We send each other every time. It’s like if I just if he if I’m having a bad day, he’ll just text this song to me and we do the same thing. So you learn to develop things, develop rapport with your kids. Put those things in place that are going to bring them comfort and time where they don’t have or moments where you’re not there or with our parents that day when we’re no longer there at all.

So, so they can, they can live a full life because living with a mental illness is difficult. I mean, it’s very, very difficult. It’s affected me in every aspect of my life. It’s affecting my relationships with people. It’s affecting my relationship with myself and my relationship with God. But I’ll, I’ll work through it.

I’m working through it. I have to be patient with myself, understand I’m a work in progress, uh, the potter still has his hand on my plate and um, just be patient as a parent, you know, parenting is the most beautiful thing in the world, but it’s the hardest.

Some of our listeners are professionals who work with special needs families.

Some of them are maybe family members who want to be able to support their sibling or their child who is the parent of a child. How can that? extended circle around us. How can they support a family, especially if the child is someone who’s facing a mental illness?

The best thing you can do, and this goes for any situation, just bring the right energy.

Come positive, come ready to help. You know, if you do that in any situation, a person will pick up on that and sometimes they may not even need your help. They just may want the prayer. They may want the sentiment. So, I always try to treat people the way you want to be treated, the way you feel you deserve to be treated.

And just come in with, come in with, with, with, with a sense of righteousness about it. Just genuinely wanting to help people and try to come in and be positive because that’s what people need when they’re going through things.

I’ve been through episodes where someone that I trusted let me down, um, to the point where it did spiral into a type of depression.

It was short term. I’m grateful for it because it helps me to understand whenever I do work with someone who struggles with this daily. Right. Right. A lot of our parents may be in that situation. Sometimes our kids, especially if they’re emotionally intense kids, they can cause trauma to the parent who’s trying to love them and care for them.

How do our parents find joy when they’re struggling in that battle?

This is how I did it because my son was outrageous. Police call all the time, truancy, all that stuff I’ve been through. The trauma that can be induced by a child that’s ill, it’s traumatic. But what I learned to do did not take it personally.

At first, it used to hurt my feelings, the things he was saying, it’s like, oh, he doesn’t love me. But it’s like, I got to understand it’s an illness. And as he got older, he would come back to me and say, you know, I really apologize. I know I said hurtful things. It was just about boys. It was this, it was that.

And we talked about it. And that’s why keeping that communication open, you know, is important, rather. Because. You can alleviate a lot of episodes with your kids by staying tuned in with them.

Don’t talk at them, talk with them. Listen to them. Have conversations. They’ll tell you what’s going on with them.

My father always told me, set up and listen to people. And that works with your kids too, because if you listen, they’ll talk. Kids aren’t as closed off as we think they are. They want to talk to us. They want to, you know, when I’m in my bedroom trying to relax, my son, he comes over to visit. He’ll just come in the room and just hug.

Because we always skip the communication. And it’s just as simple as saying, if you need to talk to me, don’t get upset at what they tell you. Not initially anyway, not unless it’s certain things. A lot of times kids fear our response to the things they have to say to us.

Right, right.

And even as adults, we temper and parse what we say and how we communicate because we live in a sense of fear.

And there’s nothing scarier than being a parent with a disabled or sick child because you’re always fearing. They’re at school, you’re wondering. Are they okay? But, you know, we have to overcome fear and, and, and fear is a bad thing. But bravery is not. Bravery is acting in the face of fear. So, I commend all the parents out there raising our special needs children because I’ve been there and I’m still doing it.

So, just be patient with yourself. Do not fear. Find support systems, or you can reach out to me at my non profit mental association. If we don’t have the resources or the capability to help you at the time, we can definitely find you somebody that can, because self care is important. You have to take time for yourself raising a special needs child.

You have to have time to unplug. You have to give yourself, or else you will burn out. And not all of us have the support system that we want and need, so we have to be on there too. There’s so many layers involved, so many.

I’m hearing you say that it’s okay for a parent to seek mental health help for themselves.

I advise it. I think any parent with a special needs child should be in some form of therapy just for the simple fact of keeping yourself going. Not saying everybody needs to be popping pills, but a therapist will help. A family therapist will help because you have to think about how to fix other tendrils of the family, other members of the family, but the parent, especially because at the end of the day, it’s all on you because your support system can flake on you in a minute.

So you have to be ready for that. If, if grandma want, they’re supposed to pick up little Johnny at three, but she got drunk at the casino. Well, then that’s on the parent and people don’t get that, you know, uh, so, but, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s. It’s been a journey with me raising myself and he’s my first lieutenant, my first born, and he’s going through challenges.

Now, um, the, the, the thing about raising a child with special needs is that they soon become a special needs adult. And you, you will run into a lot of arrested development. Uh, they may not be progressing as fast as their compatriots, not because of any lack of ability, but just because that mental illness.

It’s like trying to run with a broken leg, you know, and people don’t get that because, and that’s why I’m so passionate about, you know, dispelling the stigma around it, because once we do that, then you have people able to get the resources they need where it is an even playing field.

Well, this season I’ve been, the first two seasons, I did an icebreaker type of thing with my guests.

This year, what I’m doing is I’m having you give advice through repeating a phrase, and then you’ll repeat the phrase and finish it. Okay. Okay. Does that make sense? Yeah. All right. So I have two, two, two for you. So I’m going to read it whenever you can, and I can’t even hand it to you if you, if you want to read it.

But, but if you’ll look at the camera whenever you answer it so that, um, so that they know that you’re talking to them about this one, because this, this one, it isn’t for me. So the first one is one thing I wish people understood better about mental health is.

One thing that I wish people understood better about mental health is that it affects all of them.

Nobody did anything to bring that on themselves. You can’t pray it away. You can’t wish it away, nor can you act like it does not exist. It has to be treated and it has to be respected. It has to be discussed.

Excellent. All right, now the second one is a little bit longer, but you can reword it if you need to.

It’s in moments of fear or doubt, I remind myself that parenting a child with disabilities is also about.

In moments of fear or doubt, I always remember that raising a child with special needs is it’s about love. It’s about taking care of your child. It’s about being a parent. It’s about being a good member of society.

It’s about raising a child that even though they may have things that people may see as a deficit, that you can see in them what you want to instill to make sure that they don’t have to operate at a deficit. The love and concern and care that you can give them can help improve their chances of living the kind of life they want despite having a disability.

So it’s really about look.

Excellent. I like, I like both of those. So what else are you doing? We, um, well, first of all, you, you gave us the phone number, right? Do you have other contact methods? Do you have a website or

our website is under construction is going to be meta association. org. You can reach me at a 214 810 6518.

Um, and you can also email me at g brooks at meta association dot org. We also do fundraising. We have a cash app campaign right now. You can donate a dollar sign. Meta association. M. E. T. T. A. Cash app. We’ve got some programs going right now. I’m designing a course for young men to address mental and emotional health and things like chivalry and kind of give some coping skills.

Uh, I’m working on with the Terry Foundation in Lancaster, uh, Texas, uh, on some mentoring programs. Uh, we’ve done food drives before. Of course, I do my public speaking. We’ve been, uh, helping out in some things, uh, civically here in Dallas and in Memphis. So we got a lot of stuff going.


Hopefully, I can help as many people as I possibly can this year.

And then you mentioned, um, the podcast.

Right. I have a podcast called Musings. It’s like a little pet project of mine. I’ll send you a link to it so you can link to it. But it’s just something I do, um, on my phone. Maybe if I have a thought for the day during a moment of prayer, introspection and meditation, I’ll speak on it.

And it’s usually something related to mental health because I always try to put myself at and make sure that I speak up as a person living behind the lens of having a mental illness. Otherwise, then that makes my message no different than anybody else’s. We all have. The only thing we have to offer is our testimony.

I’m just offering.

Excellent. Well, I love what you’re doing. I love how open you are about this. I really appreciate you being here and talking about this because I think we definitely need to talk more. It just needs to get there. And this season two, I’m I’ve put together a panel of experts that we’re gonna be bringing them in at different times.

Either through voice recordings or just short little video clips. And George has agreed to be part of that panel. So you’re going to be seeing him again. Um, you won’t know where or when, so just, just keep, keep, keep on watching and I’ll put in the show notes, the links to all of those and your phone number, everything too, so that, so anyone that’s listening can.

Can reach out, you know, you’re my best expert right now as far as being able to point them in the right direction. Well, thank you. I really appreciate you being here today.

Thank you. It’s been a fun, it’s been a pleasure. so much for having me.

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You can sign up at water prairie. com slash newsletter. Thanks for joining me today and I’ll see you next week.

Tonya Wollum


Tonya Wollum is a disability advocate and host of the Water Prairie Chronicles podcast which connects special needs parents with resources to help them navigate parenting a child with a disability. She is the mother of 2 college-age children who have each grown up with a disability. That experience, along with a background in education, led her to create the Water Prairie Chronicles to help share what she has learned with parents of younger children to help them know how to advocate for their children.

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