Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that affects nearly 12 million people in the United States. One of the reasons that bipolar disorder has such a powerful impact on people’s lives is that it is characterized by manic and depressive episodes, which greatly alter people’s ability to enjoy life in a stable way. If you are trying to support someone with bipolar disorder, there are some steps you can take to help them live a more productive life.
Keep in mind that bipolar disorder is a mental illness
People who battle bipolar disorder cannot control their manic or depressive episodes. Because bipolar disorder is a mental illness, it affects your family member/friend/co-worker in several ways, including her attitudes and beliefs. It is an illness that must be properly diagnosed and treated, and you need to understand that your loved one struggles with coping with the disorder on a daily basis, just as someone with diabetes or another similar medical condition must do. Telling her to cheer up or calm down is not helpful, but offering your unconditional love and support and reassurance and hope is.
Listen to the person living with bipolar disorder
One of the best ways to support someone with bipolar disorder is to listen and be empathetic. While you cannot understand what it is like to live with the disorder, you can pay attention to her fears and frustration. Her emotions and feelings affect her, and not every aspect of her life is a sign or symptom of the disorder. You need to respect her feelings and provide support and encouragement just by showing that you care.
By listening to the person living with bipolar disorder, you are more likely to be aware of changes in her attitude or behaviors that point to a manic or depressive episode. Medication and dosages sometimes need to be altered by a medical professional from time to time for people living with bipolar disorder, so you may be able to help your loved one see that it is time for a checkup if she is exhibiting warning signs of mania or depression.
Be aware of signs of depression
Of course, depressive episodes are extremely dangerous for people living with bipolar disorder because they are more likely to engage in reckless behavior, turn to drugs and alcohol, and have suicidal thoughts than people who do not struggle with the disorder. It may be difficult to distinguish between the person’s low period and increasing signs of depression, but you should contact her doctor if she will not get out of bed, does not want to participate in activities that she normally enjoys, or stops eating. Offer encouragement and let her know that you care and are concerned. It also is helpful if you take your friend or loved one with bipolar disorder to her appointments to be sure she stays on track with her sessions and medication.
Help them seek treatment for alcoholism or addiction
It is quite common for alcoholism or addiction to coincide with bipolar disorder. People struggling with bipolar disorder may drink excessively or take illegal or recreational drugs during manic episodes, and they may turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism during depressive episodes. Both alcohol and drugs worsen the symptoms and severity of bipolar disorder, increasing the risk of mood swings, depression, violence and suicide.
If you think that your loved one is abusing alcohol or is addicted to drugs, help them seek treatment immediately and speak to their medical provider. There are several programs that can assist people who are recovering addicts as well, and it is a good idea to help your loved one with bipolar disorder find a program that will increase their chances of a successful addiction recovery.
As your loved one begins to treat their depression, they’ll need plenty of support and encouragement from friends and family. Offer positive feedback on the progress they’ve made. Encourage them to get involved in activities they might enjoy, such as playing a recreational sport or joining a book club. If they’ve had to leave a particularly stressful job because of its effects on their bipolar disorder, encourage them to find a more fulfilling form of employment. For example, if they enjoy working with animals, they might offer dog walking or pet sitting services through a company like Rover or if they enjoy writing or graphic design, they might take on projects using Upwork. When you can help them find activities and professional opportunities that are more beneficial to their overall wellbeing, you’ll be playing a very essential and important role in their recovery.
By offering your friendship, love, and support, you have the power to help someone better manage their bipolar disorder and lead a more stable, productive life. By showing you care and are willing to spend your time and energy to help, you stand a good chance of helping your loved one cope with the disorder more successfully.
Adam Cook has a strong understanding of the devastation that can be caused by addiction. He recently lost a close friend to an addiction-related suicide. In an effort to better educate himself and to help others, he created AddictionHub.org, a site that provides addiction and mental health resources. When he isn’t working or adding to his website, he’s prepping for his first triathlon.
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When a person you love is diagnosed with a mental illness, a number of things can be running through your mind. Addiction is likely not one of them. Unfortunately, addiction is often the result of abusing a substance as a coping mechanism.
The next step from mental illness to addiction is then a heightened risk of suicide. Addiction, when combined with a mental illness, leads to a much higher risk of suicidal thoughts and actions, meaning not only is it critical that you prevent addiction, but you must also be aware of the associated risks. Here are a few ways you can work to prevent both addiction and suicide in mentally ill individuals.
A person who feels they should be ashamed of their illness is more likely to turn to an unhealthy crutch such as an addictive substance. Being open and aware of their condition and how to work around it is important in avoiding dependence on something else for comfort.
Let the person know you understand and that you are willing to listen when they need to talk. This works against the risk of both suicide and addiction by preventing feelings of being ostracized and shame. Social acceptance can play a huge role in addiction and suicide.
Listen to the Person
A person with a mental illness who feels secure confiding in you will tell you what they need. For example, someone with severe social anxiety might tell you they can’t handle going to coffee with you on the day you had planned. You need to listen and be supportive.
Do not force them into situations that make things worse. They need to feel understood and accepted for who they are. With a great support system of good listeners, a person struggling with mental illness may never even feel the urge to abuse a substance or experience suicidal thoughts.
Of course, with certain ailments, even the best support network cannot prevent these detrimental habits and thoughts. For example, bipolar disorder may cause suicidal thoughts on down days regardless of how helpful their friends and family are. This may be where a professional counselor comes in.
Find a Professional
No matter how much you love and support your loved one, you cannot replace the expertise of a professional. Professionals are able to recommend medications and beneficial practices to help control the effects of the illness. They can offer positive outlets in order to help your loved one avoid feeling they need to turn to alcohol or drug abuse to cope. They are a necessary resource when your loved one needs care you cannot provide.
Even if a counselor is out of your reach, financially, there are hotlines available for both suicide and addiction. Though these hotlines are not a permanent solution, they can be an invaluable resource for moments of crisis.
A mental illness diagnosis is never the end of the road. Millions of people live with these conditions and are perfectly capable of having full, well-rounded lives. You, as a loved one, only need to be supportive and loving. No one expects you to be a counselor; however, you may be needed to help locate one qualified to help your loved one with their unique circumstances.
Having a professional on board is crucial to maintaining a healthy way of coping with mental illness. Listen, be open, and help them in the direction of a knowledgeable counselor. Preventing addiction and suicide in mentally ill people does not need to be an uphill battle provided you have a good support network and healthy outlets.
Steve Johnson co-created PublicHealthLibrary.org with a fellow pre-med student. The availability of accurate health facts, advice, and general answers is something Steve wants for all people, not just those in the health and medical field. He continues to spread trustworthy information and resources through the website, but also enjoys tennis and adding to his record collection in his spare time.
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The Mental Health Minute