Bipolar disorder affects a person’s mood, which means they will fluctuate from one extreme to another. There may be periods of mania, feeling very high and overactive, and then followed by periods of depression. Some might experience hallucinations or delusions, known as psychosis. Supporting a loved one with bipolar disorder can be a challenge. Emma Carrington, an advice and information manager at Rethink Mental Illness, says, “you may have their best interest at heart, but they might resist care because they do not feel ill or feel ashamed.” Every relationship will experience highs and lows, but bipolar disorder can add complexity to the mix. Here are a few things that have been suggested by mental health professionals:
- Look after yourself
It is easy to forget about your own mental health when helping to take care of a loved one’s mental illness. You should always make sure you stay well mentally and physically to continue to offer your support. If you are feeling angry or alone because it can be difficult to separate the illness from your loved one, look for possible support groups in your local area. It is a chance for those experiencing similar situations to help support each other and de-stress for a while.
- Talk to them about their experiences
There is a stigma and misrepresentation of bipolar disorder that can make people with the illness be reluctant or embarrassed to seek help. Being someone they trust, let them talk to you about their experiences. This can help them feel supported and accepted. Being open about your own mental health can help it feel like a safe space to talk. Patience is important. Having a manic or depressive episode can be scary, especially if the illness is new to them, and they have not accessed help yet. You may not understand what they are experiencing, but trying to understand can be helpful. It may sound weird, but ask them “what is the benefit of being bipolar?” Try to help them think of positive things in their life.
- Educate yourself on bipolar disorder
Read about the experiences of your loved ones who have the diagnosis. Talk to people who have bipolar disorder and their families and friends.
- Learn their triggers
Learn your loved ones warning signs and triggers. If you notice certain behaviors that usually happen before a manic episode, you can gently let them know. The most common warning signs of mania are increased energy, less sleep, and more money than usual. Some triggers could be physical illness, sleep disturbances, overwhelming problems in everyday life (money, work, or relationships), death of a loved one, relationship breakdowns, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
- Prepare for manic episodes
Have a plan for manic episodes. When your loved one is feeling well, try talking to them to develop a plan on how you can support them during these times. Some ideas could be being creative together, helping to reduce stress, relaxation exercises, helping to manage money while they are unwell, keeping a routine, and discussing how they can stay on top of regular meals and sleep patterns.
- Discuss challenging behavior
Try not to be afraid to discuss behavior you find challenging. Your loved one may become disinhibited during a manic episode. This means they say or do things you do not agree with. They may seem rude or offensive. Timing is critical with this. DO NOT bring it up during an episode. It should be done when they are feeling more stable.
- Find a balance between support and control
It can be challenging to find a balance between being supportive and not controlling when you are looking after a loved one. Keep communicating, and acceptance of each other’s feelings can help.
- Remain calm and provide comfort
Seeing or hearing things can be scary and confusing. Let them know that you understand that it feels real to them. It can be helpful to focus on giving support to them on how they are feeling, rather than challenging or confirming their perception of reality because it will feel very real to them. Arguing and disagreeing can make them feel even more alienated.
- Seek professional help
If you are worried about a loved one, it can help make a list of specific examples of behaviors you have noticed to become a concern. Early diagnosis and treatment is important. There are many different treatment options, and the best combination is known to be medication, therapy, and self-management. It would be good to start with their primary healthcare provider and be clear about your concerns.
Affiliated Family Counselors has many different providers who specialize in different areas of mental health. If you or a loved one are needing help, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 316-636-2888 or visit our website at www.afcwichita.com
If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgement
- Call 911 or your local emergency number, or you can text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or any other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 1-800-273-8255, people who are hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889.
Here is another helpful suicide prevention link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327007#hotlines
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