Helping Someone Through A Manic Episode
People who live with mental health illnesses can experience a wide array of symptoms that may impair their ability to function on a day to day basis. Whatever illness they live with, there are likely ways to help minimise the burden of their symptoms on their well-being. A robust support system can make a world of difference in reducing the negative aspects of a person’s bipolar disorder episodes.
There are some key supports that can help a person through a manic episode until they’re feeling like their usual self again. First and foremost, helping someone through a manic episode requires patience and understanding, along with a safe environment, balanced diet, and regular routine to keep their moods stable.
While living with bipolar disorder and experiencing a manic episode may be a challenge for the patient, it can also significantly affect the people around them. If someone you love is experiencing a manic episode as a part of their bipolar disorder, there are some important dos and don’ts to ease them through their symptoms safely.
What is a Manic Episode?
A manic episode is defined as a sustained period of symptoms, usually lasting at least one week, that is a change from an individual’s baseline mood and demeanour. When someone is having a manic episode, they may experience an abnormally euphoric, elevated, or irritable mood; intense energy; racing thoughts; and other abnormal, extreme, or exaggerated behaviours. Some people may even experience a larger than life sense of self, a separation from reality, or even psychosis, possibly including hallucinations and delusions.
How Do You Calm a Manic Episode?
It can be difficult to spend time with someone who is having a manic episode because their increased energy levels can encourage them to say things they don’t mean and do things they wouldn’t usually do that can be hurtful, tiring, or even frightening. An individual may actually enjoy a manic episode possibly making them reluctant to take their medication that would reduce their symptoms and bring them back down from their high. In order to help keep them safe and secure during these episodes, their caretakers or loved ones can:
Spend time with the person. People who are manic often feel isolated and even short periods with other people who understand what they’re going through can help them feel more secure. If they have a lot of energy, you could go for a walk or find another activity which is safe (nothing where they could potentially get hurt or in trouble), allowing them to keep moving and expend that excess energy.
Don’t take what they say too personally. People having manic episodes might be disinhibited or not think about the things they’re saying, even including lashing out at anyone opposing their activities or causing them the slightest annoyance. Avoid arguments, conflicts, and intense conversations and answer any questions honestly and to the point.
Keep them in a calm environment. Too much stimulation can trigger people having manic episodes and add to their energy, so participating in low energy activities, minimising the number of people around them, and avoiding stimulation can be key to keeping them calm.
Prepare easy to eat meals. Food such as snacks, sandwiches, and juices where they can receive a well balanced diet quickly, nutritiously, and easily is helpful. Focusing on preparing and sitting down to a full meal for an extended period might be challenging. They may also have changes in their appetite which can include an unhealthy lack of or increased desire for nutritious food. Keeping a regular eating schedule is also important as hunger can destabilise their mood. Caffeine and sugary foods can also affect their mood, so it’s good to avoid these as much as possible.
Allow flexible sleeping. Sleeping whenever possible is crucial as they may find it difficult to sleep for a full night during periods of high energy. Naps throughout the day and night might be more productive than trying to get a full night’s sleep. Sometimes, the person feels they’ve had enough rest after only 2 or 3 hours of sleep. With this in mind, remember that sticking to a routine as much as possible will keep emotions and moods steadier.
Avoid mind-altering substances. Drinking alcohol or taking unprescribed drugs can worsen manic episodes or interfere with medical management of their condition. Always restrict their access to these substances wherever possible.
Help them stay consistent with their medication. Setting regular reminders and keeping medications in a known location like the bathroom, next to the bed, or in a handbag that is used regularly can help them to remember to take them on time. This can avoid any rapid changes in their mood when their medications wear off.
How Long Do Manic Episodes Last?
The length of a manic episode varies from person to person and will depend on the type of bipolar disorder you have.
- If someone is diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, a manic episode lasts at least seven days or more.
- If someone is diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, they are likely to experience symptoms for four days or longer, but less than 7. This is known as hypomania.
- With the cyclothymia subtype of bipolar disorder, symptoms of hypomania may last hours or days at a time for at least a two year span.
How Do You Prevent a Manic Episode?
The more you and your loved ones know about bipolar disorder, the better you will be able to manage it. There are steps you can help a loved one take to recognise and manage manic episodes:
- Learn the warning signs of the beginning of an episode and get early treatment.
- Record moods at the same time everyday to watch out for patterns.
- Stay consistent with medications to help reduce manic episodes.
- Avoid triggers such as caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs, and stress.
- A balanced diet, regular exercise, and a healthy sleeping pattern help reduce mood swings.
- Prepare and know your action plan for when a manic episode is unpreventable to keep you and your loved one safe.
What Do You Say to Someone Who is Manic?
The things you say can make a big impact on people going through mania. Of course, this can go both ways and mediating conversations in order to avoid triggers can protect you both from arguments or intense conversations that might get out of control.
Supportive statements can be calming to keep a person steadier during manic episodes. Some helpful options include:
- This is not your fault.
- We can get through this together.
- I’m here for you.
- I’m proud of you.
- I love you and care about you.
- You and your life are important to me.
- You’re not alone, I’m here with you.
- What can I do to help you right now?
- I’m here to support you.
- Whenever you feel like giving up, hold on a bit longer and ask for help.
- Take small steps.
- Your illness doesn’t define you.
People who live with bipolar disorder can experience such a wide range of emotions, so anything you can do to help them live with these emotions and maintain a steady demeanour will go a long way to ensuring their safety and well-being.