Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that affects nearly 3% of the population 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 alcohol use disorder or substance use 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 users 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 substance use 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.
Image via Pixabay by geralt
This was updated from 7/30/16
The Crisis Intervention Team Inc. brings you education, conversations and perspectives on behavioral health, law enforcement, and crisis intervention teams.