woman laying her hand a man's shoulder while counseling him for bipolar disorder
Healthy Living

How You Can Support Someone With Bipolar Disorder

Jan 7 2019
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Here’s how to be there for those you love who suffer from bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder isn’t easy to live with. The condition can be a challenging mix of highs and lows. People with bipolar disorder have unexplained emotions and confusing behavior. Even when a treatment plan begins, there might be setbacks and issues that arise. Supporting your loved ones who have bipolar disorder through the manic phases and subsequent times takes patience, understanding and skills.

What is bipolar disorder?

Once called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental illness. It results in severe moodiness and energetic highs and lows, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 3% of American adults live with bipolar disorder. It tends to develop in older teenagers and young adults. There are different classifications of bipolar disorder, each with slight variations in symptoms. However, everyone with the disorder manages intense mood episodes. These periods swing from extreme happiness and high energy to unbearable sadness and sleepiness. The moods can last for minutes, hours, days or weeks.

What you can expect from someone with bipolar disorder

It’s difficult to know what to expect from someone living with bipolar disorder. That’s because the mental illness itself causes erratic, unpredictable behaviors. Still, there are some patterns to look for. Dramatic mood swings are common. Some days the person feels on top of the world or may be unbelievably irritated and worked up over small things. Other days, the person may not want to get out of bed.

Depending on the type of bipolar disorder the person has, they may return to normal behaviors in between manic and depressed episodes. It’s also possible that they’re in a constant state of changing moods.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. There are other types of behaviors associated with it, too. Those with the mental illness may spend a lot of money or have reckless sex during manic phases. They may contemplate or attempt suicide during depressive states, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s common that the person experiencing these symptoms thinks the moods are normal, but loved ones can be alarmed and worried.

How to support someone with bipolar disorder

The first step in helping someone with bipolar disorder is to educate yourself about the disease. That way, you can better understand their condition. When you see the symptoms for what they are, you might be less likely to make judgments or place blame on the individual. You then must listen and accept the person for who they are. You’re not a psychologist. There’s no need to feel like you have to have all the answers. Instead, work on staying calm and avoiding arguments as you listen to what they’re saying. By being patient and loving, you help them through their mood episodes.

Finally, you can help someone who has bipolar disorder by actively supporting them in their treatment plan. During depressive times, they may feel like it’s hopeless. However, people can manage bipolar disorder effectively through medication and therapy. By being there for them before and after appointments, you’re creating a safety set of support. That’s a powerful way to reduce their anxiety and stress.

You can also help them through their treatment by creating a day-to-day life plan. This helps them manage the erratic behaviors and moods. Keep a journal of their episodes with dates and notes. They can share the information with their doctor. Help limit manic behaviors by offering to hold on to money or credit cards, if they have a habit of reckless spending. Be understanding. Your loved one’s life is sometimes out of control, and that can be scary.

It’s important not to neglect yourself as you’re caring for someone who has bipolar disorder. Work with an expert to begin a treatment plan today. Visit Mercy.com to learn more.


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