How to help someone with bipolar disorder
It can be challenging when you have a loved one that has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Especially, since it is a condition that affects many areas of the person’s life. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to help. These are discussed below.
Understand bipolar disorder
It is a good idea to read as much information about bipolar disorder as you can. Understanding this disorder and how it works will help you to recognize the signs that your loved one needs help.
Help them to feel supported
A loved one with bipolar disorder can feel isolated sometimes, because they struggle with a condition that can be difficult for others to understand. Your attitude towards them can make a big difference.
Show acceptance- They might be struggling with very negative thoughts or they might feel embarrassed after certain episodes. For this reason, it is important to show acceptance and remind them that they are loved and valued no matter what.
Give validation- Their episodes might be something that is difficult for you to understand, but it is a real problem for them. Avoid saying things like “just snap out of it”. Acknowledge that this is a real problem for them with an attitude that is non-judgmental and non-critical.
Be patient- During certain episodes, the person might be impulsive, aggressive or rude towards you. Do not feel discouraged if this happens. Learn to separate the person from the disorder, stay calm and continue to show your support.
Help them to find the right support
Encourage them to find support through a GP, psychiatrist or a therapist. If this involves your child who is under the age of consent, you can contact these services. You might:
- Help them to book an appointment with a GP, psychiatrist or therapist
- Offer support when they attend appointments (e.g. waiting in the waiting room or attending some sessions if you need to)
- Help them search for support groups or self-help resources
- Encourage them to keep attending sessions and to not give up
- Learn about their medication
- Give them reminders to take their medication
Know when to get urgent support
When your loved one is experiencing an extremely low mood, it is good to keep an eye out for signs of self-harm or suicide. If you suspect that your loved one is at risk of hurting themself, you should get immediate support.
You should contact a GP or the NHS urgent helpline.
Know the warnings signs
Most people will have some warnings signs before they experience an episode of depression or mania. It will be helpful for you to pay attention to the behaviours that you usually notice before an episode.
For example, you might observe increased energy and more restlessness before an episode of mania. Knowing the warning signs will allow you to talk about it with your loved one, and to be prepared to take action.
Ask them what they need
They may or may not be able to tell you what they need, but it is always good to ask. They might let you know other ways that you can help. This way you won’t have to figure it out on your own.
Plan support in advance
Have a conversation with your loved one and plan out what you and others can do during an episode. You might want to consider the following:
- Making sure you have a list of emergency contact services
- Taking hold of bank cards, vehicles or any other important assets
- Be ready to prepare meals that are easy to eat, especially when they are unwell
- Think about helping them with their usual tasks that they won’t be able to get done
- Talk with your loved one and their healthcare provider on what to do if they refuse to take their medication
Help them to reduce stress
You can find different ways to reduce the chances of an episode being triggered by helping them to avoid stress. For example, you might:
- Try to keep a positive atmosphere at home
- Volunteer to help them with work or other deadlines
- Encourage them to do activities that relieve stress (e.g. light exercise, deep breathing)
- Keep the environment quiet with few stimulations
Talk about challenging behaviours
Sometimes when your loved one is unwell, they might do or say things that are offensive, cruel or embarrassing. It is reasonable for you to feel upset by this. For this reason, it is good to talk to your loved one about these behaviours in a calm way.
You might be able to gain a better understanding of these difficulties from their point of view. By having open conversations, you can avoid feeling resentful towards your loved one. This will put you in a better position to continue to support them.
Look after yourself too
It is extremely important for you to look after yourself. Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, you will be in a better position to give help, as long as you are taking care of your own well-being too. To do this you might:
- Get other family members also involved in supporting your loved one
- Schedule some time off for yourself
- See a professional that can support your mental health
To read more about looking after yourself, see our page on self-care when helping someone else.
List of useful resources
To read information about helping someone with bipolar disorder on the Bipolar UK website, you can click here to access the link.
To read information about helping someone with bipolar disorder on the MIND website, you can click here to access the link.