Reaching out to someone you know and love who has bipolar disorder can be a sensitive issue. Here are 5 ways you can offer support to a family member with bipolar disorder:
Listen and Believe
Believing doesn’t mean taking your loved one at face value when you hear statements such as “I’ll never be happy again” or “I’ve got the most brilliant plan to be a millionaire.” In the context of bipolar disorder, believing means recognizing that what your loved one feels is real to him/her. One of the most common responses to mental health issues is to say to a person “It’s all just in your head.” While technically true, this statement does not negate its reality to a person with bipolar disorder – or any other mental health issue. For these individuals the best thing you can do is to listen and take what they say seriously.
Don’t Take on Their Problems
Of course you want to help your loved one – and you should help – but it isn’t beneficial for either of you if you try to take on and solve his/her problems. Bipolar disorder is a disease of the brain and that’s why there are medications to help handle the disorder and doctors to provide guidance. One of the worst things you can do for your relationship is to spend your time and energy trying to “fix” your loved one; you’ll only end up filled with resentment. Step back and take a deep breath. Your loved one has, or should have, other outlets, such as therapy. Encourage those you love to share with their therapist, other friends and family, support groups, and sites like this one. You can be one outlet for your loved one, but you should not be the only one.
HelpGuide and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance are both excellent resources for friends and family of people with bipolar disorder. Check the locations of the nearest hospitals in your area in case you need to take your loved one to one of them. Ask what medications your loved one is taking and read about the side effects and dosages. You don’t need to hyper-monitor routines (that goes back to item #2 about not trying to fix your loved one), but be aware so you will notice if a behavior or other marker drastically changes.
Learn to Recognize Signs of Manic or Depressive Episodes
Over time you will recognize statements such as “I’ll never be successful” as a manifestation of a depressive episode. You can suggest to your loved one that you’ve heard him/her say this before and s/he got through it then and will get through it again.
Here are five common signs of depressive episodes to watch for:
- Changing dietary habits and appetites suddenly, and often inexplicably.
- Showing difficulty in maintaining the “thread” of a conversation,” forgetting thoughts mid-sentence or not remembering what immediately was said before.
- Being unable to sleep or sleeping excessively, yet having no energy.
- Descending into apathy for activities usually enjoyed or relished.
- Exhibiting uncharacteristic irritability for no apparent reason.
Here are five common signs of mania to watch for:
- Being unable to sleep well, or at all, yet having a relentless energy that can often last for days.
- Having sudden irrational beliefs that anything at all is possible, including the wildest of schemes.
- Being easily distracted and unable to focus or concentrate.
- Talking too fast and often making no sense.
- Exercising poor judgment, often involving rash decision-making.
Treat Your Family Member The Same as Always
Your loved one has bipolar disorder, not three heads! Your family member remains your family member no matter what. Your relationship can and should continue as it was before the diagnosis. Just remember there will be necessary changes in routines and some aspects of lifestyle. You don’t need to walk on eggshells; be yourself. If your relationship always involved a lot of leg-pulling and banter, keep it up!
Living A Great Life With Bipolar Disorder
Living a great life is possible despite your bipolar disorder. I invite you to join our community by subscribing to this blog and by following us on Facebook. Together, we can learn, grow, and support each other to live a great life with bipolar disorder.