Watching a loved one struggle with bipolar disorder is undoubtedly challenging. What makes it worse is the feeling that there’s nothing you can do about it. The periods of depression and mania that accompany bipolar disorder can prove challenging to the friends and loved ones of those who have bipolar disorder. Unpredictable mood swings and behaviors, canceled plans, financial difficulties, and substance use can increase tensions among close friends and family members. However, before abandoning all hope, there are several things you can do to help a loved one who has bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by extreme changes in mood and behavior. Bipolar disorder is episodic, meaning it consists of intense periods of depression and mania that alter an individual’s mood, energy, self-confidence, and wellbeing. While in a manic episode, a person with bipolar disorder may partake in risky, impulsive, and potentially harmful behaviors such as excessive spending, substance use, and unsafe sexual encounters. While in a depressive episode, someone struggling with bipolar disorder may wrestle with extended periods of listlessness, emptiness, fatigue, and an unstable sense of self. Bipolar disorder can be easily misdiagnosed, as some of its symptoms mirror other mental health disorders.
It seems obvious, but often individuals who suffer from bipolar or another mental health disorder just want someone to listen to them. Suffering from bipolar disorder can be an isolating experience, and it can be challenging for someone to find someone who genuinely and actively listens to their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Even if you don’t agree with or understand your loved one, it is essential that you communicate with them that you are there to listen to them and their needs. Use validating and affirmative statements such as, “I can imagine why that would be challenging,” “Your thoughts and feelings are valid, but that doesn’t always make them true,” “This must be so hard for you,” and “I may not understand what you are going through, but I’m here for you.”
Most importantly, don’t try to sugarcoat their experience with unnecessarily optimistic truisms like, “it’ll all get better soon,” or, “taking your medication will make your symptoms go away.” The truth is, you don’t know the outcome of your loved one’s disorder. By trying to paint a pretty picture over their cares, you invalidate the truth of their experience.
Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health disorder. Treatment for bipolar disorder often takes the right combination of prescription medication, psychotherapy, and accountability. You can aid in your loved one’s treatment by learning all you can about bipolar disorder. Read legitimate mental health resources, buy clinical books, listen to podcasts on mental illness, read op-ed pieces or other informative articles, follow prominent national mental illness organizations, and find your local NAMI chapter. Learn all you can about what your loved one is going through. Education is the first step to empathy.
Sometimes, individuals who have bipolar disorder may resist going to treatment. However, one of the best positions you can take for your loved one is that of an advocate. Lead by example by being a local advocate in your community; then, advocate for them personally. Offer to drive your loved one to the doctor’s office or accompany them into their appointments. Buy them books to help them understand the mental illness. Leave them encouraging notes and send them kind text messages. Be patient and understanding if they don’t respond right away. Encourage them to get out of the house by going on a walk with them or point them in the right direction of a professional who can hold them accountable. You can help your loved one find treatment by researching therapists in your local area.
Treatment for bipolar disorder takes time, so be patient. It is crucial that you practice patience not only with your loved one but also with yourself. You may not always respond the right way if your loved one is undergoing a manic episode. You might get overly frustrated when your family member is too depressed to get out of bed. You may not always know the right words to say. You will probably experience a broad range of emotions, from frustration to anger, sadness to despair, and patience to hope. When your loved one sees how patient you are with them, they will likely appreciate your efforts all the more. If you find yourself getting frustrated, reach out to a trusted friend or a close family member, and don’t be afraid to take your concerns to a therapist.
It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s essential that you make time for you. When you find yourself getting frustrated with a loved one, be sure to take a break from the situation and do something that you love and brings you peace. Go for a walk or to a local gym, make a cup of tea, read a book, take a bubble bath, play a board game, or watch a funny TV show to lighten the mood. You must give yourself time to rest and give yourself the mental space you need to decompress and refresh your thoughts and emotions. The better you are at taking care of yourself, the better you will serve someone else along their journey.
Watching a loved one struggle with bipolar disorder can be a heartbreaking experience, and it may make you feel hopeless about how to help. The journey to recovery is not meant to be traveled alone, so stay present with your loved one amid their pain. Start by first listening to your loved one and their experiences, do your research on bipolar disorder, encourage your loved one to participate in a clinical treatment plan, being patient with yourself and with your loved one, and carve out time to take care of you. If a friend, family member, or other loved one struggles with bipolar disorder, it might be beneficial to seek outside support, such as a mental health clinician, counselor, or therapist. SokyaHealth offers a variety of mental health resources for bipolar disorder. Treatment through SokyaHealth is offered in Alaska, California, and Oregon. For more information on how to support a loved one with bipolar disorder, contact SokyaHealth at 503-298-4592 today.