It’s important for people living with bipolar disorder to understand how to cope with their condition. However, it’s also important that the people in their lives — such as friends or family members — know how to help.

If you have a friend or loved one living with bipolar disorder, you know this condition can be a challenge. The erratic behaviors and extreme shifts in mood can be hard for the person with the condition, as well as the people in their life.

Read on for a list of ways to help if someone you care about has bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental illness that causes extreme changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These changes affect the person’s ability to carry out daily tasks.

Bipolar disorder most often develops in older teenagers or young adults, and the average age of onset is 25 years. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 2.7% or 7 million adults in the United States have bipolar disorder.

There are three main types of bipolar disorder. While they have some similar symptoms, these symptoms differ in severity and treatment.

The main symptoms of bipolar disorder are emotional phases called “mood episodes.” These episodes can switch from extreme happiness or joy (mania) or irritability to deep sadness or hopelessness (depression). Sometimes people with bipolar disorder experience both happiness and sadness at the same time (mixed state).

When people with bipolar disorder go through mood changes, they usually experience severe changes in their energy and activity levels, sleep patterns, and other everyday behaviors.

Psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, may also occur during severe mood episodes. These can be frightening both for the person with bipolar disorder and for those around them.

Living with bipolar disorder isn’t easy. But your support can make a positive difference in the life of someone with the condition, especially during mood episodes. Here are 7 steps you can take to help someone with bipolar disorder:

1. Educate yourself

The more you know about bipolar disorder, the more you’ll be able to help. For instance, understanding the symptoms of manic and depressive episodes can help you react appropriately during severe mood changes.

2. Listen

You don’t always need to provide answers or advice to be helpful. In fact, simply being a good listener is one of the best things you can do for someone with bipolar disorder, especially when they want to talk with you about the challenges they’re facing.

Offering your acceptance and understanding can go a long way in helping that person feel more comfortable with their condition.

3. Be active in their treatment

Treatment for people with bipolar disorder usually consists of many therapy sessions and doctor visits. While you shouldn’t necessarily attend these appointments, you can help someone with bipolar disorder by coming with them and then waiting for them until their appointment is over.

4. Make a plan

Bipolar disorder can be unpredictable. It’s important to have an emergency plan in place if you need to use it during severe mood episodes. This plan should include what to do if the person has thoughts of suicide during a depressive episode or if the person needs help during a manic episode.

You should also have everyday plans that can help the person get through the time between extreme episodes. These plans can include coping mechanisms, such as what the person can do when they feel a mood change coming or how to complete chores or other daily activities when they have low energy levels.

5. Support, don’t push

Know when to step back and let a medical or mental health professional intervene. While people with bipolar disorder can make conscious decisions, you need to understand when their moods and behaviors are out of their control.

6. Don’t neglect yourself

While caring for someone with bipolar disorder, it can be easy to forget to care for yourself. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating properly, and exercising regularly. Keeping yourself healthy can better allow you to keep the person you’re helping healthy.

7. Know when it’s too much

No one knows how to handle bipolar disorder better than the specialists trained to treat it. If you’re helping a person with bipolar disorder and it feels like things are getting too difficult, reach out to a medical or mental health expert right away. Call 911 if anyone becomes abusive or threatens to harm themselves or others.

If someone with bipolar disorder is pushing you away, they may have a hard time opening up to you, even if you’re close. Don’t take that personally, and try asking them if there’s someone else they’ll be more comfortable speaking with.

If they don’t give you an answer or if they don’t recognize they’re ill, such as when they’re in a manic crisis, you may need to call the person’s doctor or healthcare team or take them to the hospital.

Stay as calm as possible while you’re deciding what to do. If your safety is in jeopardy or you think the person is a danger to themselves, you may need to call the police.

What should you not say to someone with bipolar?

Be careful what you say to a person living with bipolar disorder so as not to minimize their experience and make them feel stressed. It’s a good idea to keep an empathetic tone as much as possible.

How do you make a bipolar person feel loved?

You don’t have to agree with the person’s behaviors and actions, but telling them that you’ll always have their back can be very beneficial. People with bipolar disorder often feel worthless or hopeless, so affirming their strengths and positive qualities can also help them recover from their depressive episodes more easily.

How do you calm an angry bipolar person?

It can be hard for people with mental disorders to understand what they’re experiencing, which can be frustrating and result in anger. Understanding what the person is going through and offering your support can make a big difference in how they feel.

Helping someone with bipolar disorder can be a challenge. The person’s shifts may be unpredictable, and it can be difficult to know how to react or cope.

But if you make the effort, you can make an enormous difference in the life of your friend or loved one. Knowing they can rely on you can help them stick with their treatment plan and stay more positive. It can also be rewarding to know that you’re helping your friend or loved one cope with the ups and downs of life with bipolar disorder.