The Therapeutic Benefit of Relationships

Relationships with other people are an important and challenging aspect of anyone's life, but they can be especially so for bipolar people.

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Maintaining healthy relationships is important for people with bipolar episodes as part of their overall management of the condition. Family and friends can be a vital component of the successful treatment of bipolar disorder and maintaining a fulfilling life.

“Relationships are very important particularly in terms of managing the patient’s disease,” said Dr. Soroya Bacchus, a psychiatrist practicing in Los Angeles area. “However, difficult relationships can be a huge stressor and might need to be the focus of individual psychotherapy. There are often times when physical relationships must be severed as they will be detrimental to the patient’s recovery.”

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Even in the most loving family or with the best of friends, bipolar disorder can also put a great deal of strain on the people who make up the support network.

Loved ones, when performing in the support role, can help a bipolar person keep up with treatment, spot the onset of episode, manage episodes once they arrive, and help pick up the pieces afterward. Depending on the severity of the event, this could go as far as saving a bipolar person's life. To help relatives and friends who are supporting a person with bipolar disorder or other mental illness, many types of psychotherapy include education about the illness and appropriate ways to cope with it.

One of these types of psychotherapy—family therapy—also focuses on helping relatives communicate and problem solve more effectively, which can help ease the strain mental illness can cause in a family.

In the case of bipolar disorder, this strain can be significant.

People in the grips of a bipolar episode can do or say things they might not otherwise. They don't sleep at all or the sleep too much. They can go on spending sprees or have sex with strangers. They can become violent or threaten violence to themselves or others. They also, when in the grips of an episode, may not be very open to the preventative actions, advice or pleas of their loved ones.

When family cannot provide enough support or is not an option, support groups and group therapy may be the answer. In both cases, people with similar issues meet regularly to discuss their problems and how to deal with them. These types of sessions allow these people to help and support each other.

Bipolar disorder not only is a challenge for the person who has it, but for their loved ones as well. The disorder, through its symptoms, can cause a great deal of strain on family and other personal relationships.

One side effect of relationships is if a person with bipolar disorder associates with people who foster unhealthy habits that can be especially problematic for people with bipolar disorder: gambling, drinking, drug use, etc. These type of relationships should be terminated, or at least altered to accommodate for healthier choices.

Everyone's social and familial situation is different, and will determine how strong support network is available. However, if not enough help can be found through loved ones, support groups and psychotherapy can often be found through a doctor's advice or local social or mental health services.