Mental Illness can be difficult to live for family and friends of people with mental illness.
Bipolar Disorder affects millions of people each year. When living with someone with bipolar disorder, we may not know how to handle certain situations, and conventional wisdom may not apply.
Fortunately, science has gone to great lengths to understand bipolar disorder, and resources are available for the family to help their loved ones tackle their condition.
If you’d like to learn more about bipolar disorder, visit BetterHelp. BetterHelp has hundreds of certified therapists that work with patients with bipolar disorder. For more information on bipolar disorder, visit the link below:
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuations between mood, energy, and ability to function and can be identified by the presence of manic and depressive episodes.
Manic episodes are moments of extreme happiness, heightened energy levels, and a lack of inhibitions that lead to reckless or life-threatening actions. Depressive episodes are moments of crippling sadness, lack of interest or appetite, and excess of sleep.
What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder consists of many symptoms. The DSM-5 states that a person must show at least 3 of the following symptoms for manic episodes.
- Feelings of grandeur or inflated self-esteem
- Decreased need for sleep
- Racing thoughts
- Extreme lack of focus, unable to finish tasks
- Increased talkativeness
- Attempting uncharacteristic actions or destructive behavior
For the depressive states, the criteria are higher. A person must show at least 5 of the following symptoms to be diagnosed with a major depressive state.
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Loss of interest in activities
- Decrease of appetite
- Major weight loss
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
7 ways to support a family member with Bipolar Disorder
With Family therapy, every family member gains the tools to help patients through their episodes. Therapists teach families to recognize signs of oncoming episodes and plan accordingly.
Families learn to reduce stress levels and coordinate together. For someone with bipolar disorder, having your family by your side can make all the difference.
Avoid ‘pseudo’ advice
‘Pseudo’ advice can be phrases we say every day to inspire and motivate under normal circumstances. Here are some examples:
- Happiness is a Choice
- Just be Happy!
- Get over it!
- Stay Hard!
- But you look great! You don’t look depressed, manic, etc.
Bipolar disorder is not a normal circumstance, and this type of well-meaning advice can make a person feel worse off.
Never tell someone with bipolar disorder to “Snap out of it” or try to downplay their illness. They have a severe health condition with no cure.
Instead, give them the chance to express themselves. Don’t tell them to “get some sun” or “go to church.” Instead, invite them on a hike to attend service together.
There are a plethora of resources available to learn more about bipolar disorder. Most of these resources also teach you what to say or how to be more present.
Support groups can also be a way to learn about bipolar disorder. By hearing how it’s affected other families, you can discover how to deal with similar situations and build a robust support system.
People with bipolar disorder can shut themselves out from the world and resist anyone coming in. Someone who isn’t aware of the symptoms can misinterpret them personally.
Respect their boundaries but let them know you’re still around. Whether in a note, text, or voicemail, it means the world to them to know you’re not upset and that you’re supporting them from afar.
Sometimes, people with bipolar disorder just want to vent and talk without being chastised or pitied. Listening can be alleviating and provides the space to process feelings and emotions.
We don’t have all the answers, and assuming so hurts those living with bipolar disorder.
When you don’t know what to say, say nothing and be present.
Create Contingency Plans
Bipolar disorder can lead to unpredictable and often erratic behavior. Creating different contingency plans can prepare you and your family for an episode and know how best to handle the situation.
For example, if your loved one goes on shopping sprees during a manic episode, consider holding on to their credit cards, cash, or restricting access to their online purchasing.
Create a plan with them to discuss what to do during an extreme episode. Certain activities can curb symptoms or keep them busy until the episode has passed.
An essential part of supporting someone with bipolar disorder is knowing your limitations. Check-in with yourself and gauge how you’re feeling. Supporting a loved one with mental illness takes substantial time and energy and can drain us if we’re not careful.
If you’re at your limit, take some time for your mental health. Consider joining a support group where you can talk freely. Your feelings are valid, and you deserve a healthy way to express them.
Bipolar Disorder doesn’t have to control your life. Your family member is a person and is not defined by their illness.
If you think your loved one has bipolar disorder, help is available. Reach out to a licensed therapist specializing in CBT, Family Therapy, or works with patients with Bipolar Disorder today.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.