How To Support Someone With Bipolar Disorder

How To Support Someone With Bipolar Disorder

We all come across difficult situations and experiences in life which can affect our mood in a negative fashion. However, when an individual suffers extreme or severe mood swings, either high to low (depression) and low to high (mania) or both in some cases, and these extreme mood swings largely interfere with their capacity to lead a normal, day-to-day life, they may be suffering from bipolar disorder. Episodes or periods of depression and mania can last a few days in some cases, and up to a few months in others.

Bipolar disorder may take one of the following four forms:

  1. Bipolar I
  2. Bipolar II
  3. Cyclothymic Disorder
  4. Bipolar Disorder

To learn what defines each of these forms, please refer to our article ‘Signs And Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder’ by clicking here. Additionally, to learn about the signs and symptoms of periods of depression and mania, please also refer to the aforementioned article.

From dealing with explosive outbursts and reckless and irresponsible decision-making when a person with bipolar disorder is experiencing mania, to coping with intense low mood and difficulty functioning or meeting responsibilities when they are suffering through a period of depression, watching someone you care about who is suffering from bipolar disorder can be very distressing.

When a loved one is facing bipolar disorder, their moods (depression and/or mania) and associated behaviours can strain relationships and largely disrupt the life of surrounding family and friends. Supporting someone close to you with bipolar disorder can leave you feeling a number of different ways, including but not limited to feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, disconcerted, exhausted and hopeless.

However, it is important to remember how powerful and essential your support is as someone you care about works to manage their bipolar disorder. In this article, we discuss some of the best ways you can go about supporting your loved one through their journey with bipolar disorder.

What You Can Do To Support Someone Suffering From Bipolar Disorder

Learn All You Can About Bipolar Disorder

The more you comprehend what bipolar disorder is, its signs and symptoms, available treatment options and how you can assist, the better prepared you will be to understand, communicate with and support your loved one with the illness. Particularly, by understanding the signs and symptoms of manic versus depressive episodes, which can differ significantly, you will be in a stronger position when it comes to knowing how to respond accordingly.

Accept (i) Your Loved One Is Suffering From Bipolar Disorder And (ii) Its Associated Challenges

Though you may be feeling distressed, disheartened and especially, confused and/or helpless when someone you care about is battling bipolar disorder, it is vital to remember that their situation is not your fault nor is it theirs. Bipolar disorder is a real illness and acknowledging it and its associated challenges is a pivotal step in the process of supporting your loved one to manage it as best they can, particularly when you are feeling guilty or highly frustrated.

Having realistic expectations of your family member or close friend when it comes to bipolar disorder is key. This way, you can work to avoid feeling let down or resentful. For example, when they are in a state of depression, do not expect them to simply be able to ‘snap out of it’.

Similarly, having realistic expectations of yourself is also essential. Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health illness that requires professional treatment in order to achieve the best quality of life possible while living with the disorder, and it is important to understand that while your support of your loved one is extremely important, you are not solely responsible for helping your loved one to manage the illness. Strike a balance as best you can between supporting your loved one and encouraging them to be proactive and independent when it comes to managing their illness.

Encourage Your Loved One To Seek Professional Help

Bipolar disorder when left untreated cannot only wreak havoc in the life of your loved one, but also in the lives of those surrounding them. It is absolutely essential that bipolar disorder is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. Though it can be difficult to get your loved one to seek professional help (particularly during periods of mania where they may reject the idea that something is wrong), it is vital not to delay seeking professional help for bipolar disorder.

It is a good idea to keep in mind that being diagnosed with and seeking treatment for bipolar disorder can be daunting and embarrassing for a sufferer, so be sure to be as sensitive as possible when it comes to your loved one seeking treatment for their illness.

Assist Your Loved One By Supporting Their Treatment

Don’t underestimate how much of a difference you can make in the management of their illness by championing their treatment. There are a variety of ways you can assist when it comes to your loved one receiving treatment:

-ask your loved one how you can best assist them regarding seeking treatment

-locate qualified therapists

-enquire about and book appointments for them

-help your loved one prepare for appointments (e.g. write down any questions they have)

-drive or travel with them to/from, and sit with them before, any appointments

-where permitted, be present during their appointments

-research their applicable medication(s) and possible side effects

-keep an eye on their moods and symptoms, and monitor any progress or relapse (for example, by using a journal; remember, if you are concerned about their safety, seek immediate assistance)

-encourage them to stick to their treatment plan

-offer to attend a support group with them, where applicable

Seeking and receiving treatment can be scary and unsettling for a person suffering from bipolar disorder. It is very important to reassure your loved one when it comes to seeking treatment and to give them ongoing love and support.

Listen To Your Loved One Without Judgement And Show Your Understanding

The simple act of listening to what your loved one has to say (without judging them) when they are struggling with bipolar disorder is extremely beneficial. Bipolar disorder can cause a person to feel isolated and misunderstood at times, so it is very important for family and close friends to listen calmly, carefully and attentively when they are ready to talk.

Simply asking them how they are going and reassuring them you are there for them and happy to assist however you can can be very helpful. Accepting your loved one’s illness and showing your understanding can help your loved one to feel less reluctant to talk about (as well as feel embarrassed about) what they are experiencing. Communicating openly and honestly is fundamental when it comes to managing and coping with bipolar disorder, both for your loved one as well as family and friends. Remember to respect their requirement for space at times and be sure to let them know you will be there when they are ready to talk.

Reassure Your Loved One Of Their Value And That They Are Not Defined By Bipolar Disorder

It is essential to reassure someone we care about suffering from bipolar disorder who may be feeling hopeless or worthless that their life is meaningful and that they are loved dearly by their family and close friends. Highlighting their great qualities and strengths can be really helpful, particularly when they are suffering a depressive episode.

Some individuals suffering from bipolar disorder can feel very misconceived and that life is against them. Bipolar disorder can feel all-consuming at times and in this case it is especially important to reassure your loved one that they are not defined by their mental illness and are still very much valid members of society. Let your loved one know you are on their side and will always be there to support them.

Actively Spend Time With Your Loved One

People suffering from bipolar disorder can often feel lonely and isolated from other people and the world in general, especially when undergoing a depressive episode. Spending time with someone you love experiencing bipolar disorder, even in short amounts of time, can be very beneficial for their overall wellbeing.

If they do not feel well enough to leave the house, offer to pay them a visit at home at a time that suits them. Or, where you can and they feel comfortable doing so, take them out of the house. For example, you could go for a gentle stroll together, take them out for a tea/coffee or meal or see a movie they are interested in together. Don’t forget to continue inviting your loved one to be a part of things – even on more difficult days, they will no doubt still appreciate feeling included.

Offer Your Loved One Practical Assistance

Life and its many responsibilities, even those considered more simple such as doing the laundry, can seem very overwhelming when struggling with bipolar disorder. Offering your loved one practical assistance is a great way to support them when they are having a difficult time. You could consider:

-cooking them a nutritious meal

-helping with the grocery shopping

-assisting with their laundry

-tidying and/or cleaning their house

-running necessary errands

-picking up or looking after their child(ren)

Be Sure Not To Take Symptoms Of Your Loved One’s Illness Personally

Whether it’s dealing with symptoms of mania such as explosive outbursts and reckless and irresponsible decision-making, or with symptoms of a depressive episode, such as intense low mood and difficulty functioning or meeting responsibilities, it can be difficult at times not to take your loved one’s bipolar symptoms personally. Try to remember that they are just that – symptoms of a mental illness.

Have Patience Throughout Their Journey

It is vitally important both for your loved one as well as yourself and other family and friends to remain as patient as possible throughout your loved one’s journey with bipolar disorder. Try to remain hopeful for the future and maintain a positive outlook as best you can. Remaining calm and patient throughout their journey cannot only benefit your loved one but can also help you yourself to best manage any challenges and setbacks as they arise.

Remember To Take Care Of Yourself

When caring for someone we love with bipolar disorder, it can be easy to neglect our own requirements. However, due to the unpredictable nature (and often longevity) of bipolar disorder, it is very important to look after yourself so you don’t reach a state of burnout. After all, if you fail to take good care of your own physical, mental and emotional health, you are not as able to take care of your loved one.

Be sure to seek emotional support from others when you need it, whether it be via family and friends, an applicable therapist and/or by attending a support group. Don’t be afraid to lean on friends and family for practical hands-on support too, when you need a helping hand. Ensure you are getting the right amount of sleep to function at your best. Do your best to eat healthily and to exercise regularly.

Don’t lose sight of your own goals and be sure to keep up with your family relationships, friendships and activities that you really enjoy. Make sure you are allocating yourself adequate time each week for social interaction and relaxation time.

Despite the challenges associated with supporting someone you care about battling bipolar disorder, your support is crucial for your loved one to best cope with and manage their mental illness. Fortunately, there are a wide number of things you can do to support your loved one with bipolar disorder, as discussed above.

Although your support is necessary and largely beneficial for your loved one, it is absolutely essential they seek and receive professional treatment for their bipolar disorder as soon as possible. Receiving the right treatment without delay can allow for a person suffering from bipolar disorder and their surrounding and supportive family and friends to reach a happy, calm and healthy state of being as soon as possible.

Where To Receive Professional Help For Bipolar Disorder

  • In case of emergency, call Triple Zero (000)
  • If you require urgent support, call the 24/7 Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline’s 24-hr Telephone Crisis Support on 13 11 14
  • Visit your local doctor, who can refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist or other qualified professional who can best give you the help you need
  • Visit your local mental health clinic
  • See or speak to a professional therapist at Blissiree Pty Ltd