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How to Support a Loved One with a Bipolar Disorder

woman supporting partner with bipolar disorder
By Lifestance Health on November 19, 2020

A bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes periods of depression followed by episodes of mania. Due to the stigma of mental health conditions generally and bipolar disorders in particular, many people with these disorders may feel ostracized by their diagnoses.

If someone you love has a bipolar disorder, you can help. In fact, a strong support network is one of the most significant parts of bipolar disorder treatment.

Learn About the Disorders

With the way bipolar disorders are discussed in the general population and portrayed in the media, nobody could blame you if you have misconceptions about the disorders. Sadly, these misunderstandings continue to harm people with bipolar disorders–including your loved one. By learning as much as you can about bipolar disorders, you give them an oasis of understanding in a desert of stigma.

A few important facts about bipolar disorders include:

  • There are three distinct conditions that fall under the umbrella of bipolar disorders: cyclothymic disorder, bipolar 1, and bipolar 2. The difference lies in the length and intensity of the person’s manic and depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar disorder was once just one condition called “manic-depressive disorder,” and some people still use that term.
  • While a good mood is healthy, mania is different. Manic episodes can cause risky behaviors that endanger a person’s personal, financial, emotional, or relational security.
  • People with bipolar disorders are often misdiagnosed with other disorders first, including major depression.
  • There’s no single cause of bipolar disorders, but there seems to be a strong genetic link.
  • High-quality, comprehensive treatment can allow people with bipolar disorders to live happy, healthy lives.

If you want to learn more about bipolar disorders, consider asking to schedule a family appointment with their therapist. Together, you and your loved one can learn more about the disorder and each other.

Encourage Them to Seek Treatment Regularly

Like many mental health conditions, bipolar disorders are life-long conditions. While there’s no cure, there are many effective treatments. Individual therapy, group therapy, and psychiatric medication can all help in different ways.

Unfortunately, manic episodes can make someone feel like they do not need help. People in a manic episode can feel so elated and energetic that they feel invincible. As a loved one, you can help ground them and encourage them to see a qualified mental health care provider.

On the other end of the spectrum, depressive episodes can make seeking treatment feel impossible. In some people with a bipolar disorder, the depressive episodes can be so intense that even getting out of bed and eating something can feel like an overwhelming task. You can support someone in this stage by helping them make and attend the appointments they need.

Provide Emotional Support

People with bipolar disorders experience a wide array of intense emotions. Even when treatment helps them cope in healthy ways, it can still be a struggle. Add the stigma of having the disorder, and someone with a bipolar disorder can feel isolated quickly.

One of the best ways you can support your loved one is just by listening. Let them know that you will always be able to provide a judgment-free ear. That doesn’t mean validating their every whim, but rather letting them know that they are loved and understood. Phrases such as, “I know your illness makes you believe that’s true,” can be helpful.

Take Care of Yourself

Burning yourself out on caring for others doesn’t do anyone any good. Chances are that when they got the diagnosis, part of you felt hurt as well. Be sure to find healthy coping mechanisms for yourself as well. Often, that means setting firm boundaries and saying “No.”

Ultimately, you are not responsible for anyone else’s recovery. You can help and provide support, but you cannot heal them. Accepting your own limitations is helpful not only for you but for your loved one as well. When clear expectations are set, everyone benefits.

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