A person suffering from bipolar disorder has their own obstacles to handle, but caring for someone who is bipolar also has its own challenges.
Whether you live together or are on the other side of the planet, there are steps everyone can take to help someone who is living with bipolar disorder.
Your loved one will surely tell you about his or her condition, but the more you can educate yourself with medically-reviewed information, the better you can understand what that person is going through, as well as what trouble signs to be on the lookout for. You can start by visiting Healthline’s Bipolar Disorder Topic Center to learn about bipolar symptoms, treatments, and more.
This is one of the most important and helpful things you can do for someone with bipolar disorder. You don't have to offer advice or solutions to problems—acceptance and understanding is oftentimes more effective.
Be a Champion
During certain stages of bipolar disorder, it can feel like the world is against that person, so letting the person know you are on his or her side is amazingly reassuring. This could even be assuring the person that you promise to always keep his or her best interests at heart.
As bipolar disorder often carries feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, simply affirming their strengths and positive qualities goes a long way.
Be Active in Treatment
Part of supporting someone with bipolar disorder is being there for important events. You won't be going to individual therapy sessions, but there will be times when you can accompany your friend or loved one to important doctor's appointments and treatment sessions. Some of these appointments can be complicated or intimidating, so being there can help take some of the burden off of the person seeking treatment.
Make a Plan
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can sometimes be unpredictable, so it's best to have a plan in place should you need it. This could be what to do if the person is feeling suicidal, if he or she gets out of control during a manic episode, or even something as simple as splitting up daily chores and duties. You should make these plans when a person is in a calm, logical state of mind, and both pledge to adhere to the plans.
Support, Don't Push
No matter how good your intentions may be, sometimes a person needs to come to conclusions or learn lessons on his or her own. While you may feel like your advice should be heeded, you need to keep in mind that your job is to support the person with bipolar disorder, not save him or her.
Any mental condition, especially bipolar disorder, can be difficult to understand, especially for the person going through it. He or she may switch moods several times a day and won't have an explanation for how he or she feels. While difficult for everyone, keep in mind the person isn't doing it on purpose to be spiteful. The more compassion and understanding you can offer your loved one, the more positive your influence will be.
Don't Neglect Yourself
When you're caring for someone else, you still need to care for yourself. Besides making sure all of your personal affairs are tended to, you need to go out and do the things you want to do. Also, make sure to take care of yourself with good nutrition and regular exercise. The better you take care of yourself, the better you can take care of your loved one.
Be Patient & Remain Optimistic
Unfortunately, there's no one thing to say or do to make everything better. Treating and overcoming bipolar disorder takes time, so while the end may not be immediately in sight, the journey is an important one. Patience and optimism can help smooth the road everyone goes down.
Know When It's Too Much
There's only so much one person can handle, so it's important to know when it's time to ask for help. If the person you're caring for uses guilt trips or other games, becomes verbally or physically abusive, or becomes too much for you to handle, it's time to get other people involved.
Jason Evan Mihalko, Psy.D, a licensed psychologist from Cambridge, Mass., offers these suggestions for building a relationship with your friend or family member with bipolar disorder:
- ask them what helps
- ask them what doesn't help
- ask them to show you what their warning signs are for when they are heading off the rails
- ask them for ideas of what are helpful ways to get back on the path when they've gone off the rails.
"I think we spend too much time fragelizing people with bipolar disorder," Mihalko said.