Supporting Someone with Bipolar

Supporting Someone with Bipolar

Bipolar can be a challenging disorder to navigate not only for those living with it but also for everyone around them, especially family and close friends. The extreme shifts in mood and erratic behaviours can be taxing on loved ones. People living with bipolar need a robust support network.

You can support your loved one with bipolar disorder by learning more about the condition, making a plan for difficult times, learning what their triggers may be, helping them to stick to a routine and a treatment plan, making sure they get enough sleep and eat healthily, but most importantly look after yourself.

It’s essential for people with bipolar disorder to learn all they can about their condition, understand how to cope and implement strategies to live a healthy life. However, it is also important for their support network such as friends, family members and carers to understand and learn some coping mechanisms that could help them navigate through their manic or depressive episodes. People living with bipolar need a robust support system.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

People living with Bipolar Disorder experience extreme changes in mood and energy levels. The main symptoms of bipolar are intense periods of major depression as well as periods of mania or hypomania, these are commonly known as ‘episodes’. There are six main types of bipolar disorder each with a broad spectrum of symptoms:

  • bipolar I disorder
  • bipolar II disorder
  • cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia)
  • substance/medication-induced bipolar and related disorder
  • bipolar and related disorder due to another medical condition
  • unspecified bipolar and related disorder

Symptoms usually emerge during early adulthood and every individual with this condition will experience the disorder slightly differently. 

Thankfully, there are effective therapies and medications that help patients living with Bipolar Disorder manage their illness, reduce episodes of depression or mania, and live a happy and fulfilled life. When a patient’s treatment does not prevent recurrence of their symptoms, they can develop disabilities which limit their ability to perform usual tasks and diminish their quality of life. 

Maple Community Services is well equipped to assist patients with Bipolar Disorder in order to help them manage any disabilities they live with and improve their functional, mental, and emotional well-being.

How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Loved Ones?

Depending on the nature of an individual’s condition and how well it is managed, family members and friends are affected in a variety of ways. Caring for someone with severe symptoms can be stressful for the family, especially if you are not offered the opportunity to develop the skills required to cope with mental illness. 

It can be tough to strike a balance between care for your loved one and self care. You want to be supportive and empathetic towards their needs, because they can’t be blamed for their illness. But their behaviour will likely have an effect on you too. It’s just as important to take care of yourself and your needs so you can provide a level head and support for them.

If you have a loved one who has bipolar disorder you may be experiencing: 

  • Emotional distress such as guilt, grief and worry. 
  • Disruption to your regular routines
  • Dealing with unusual or dangerous behaviour
  • Strained relationships
  • Changes in family roles
  • Stress and health problems associated with it
  • Financial problems due to reduced income or excessive spending

Friends and family members are likely to feel a lot of emotions as they come to terms with a loved one’s diagnosis and this is a natural reaction. It’s inevitable that we would want the people we love to live healthy and happy lives. The good news is that they can and you can help them to do so. With some education, support from others in similar situations and experience you can learn to live with and support the demands of your loved ones’ illness.

How Do You Calm a Bipolar Mind?

Stress is a major trigger of manic and depressive episodes which can be exhausting when it’s unmanaged. The best way to prevent these mood swings is to get professional treatment in the form of medication, therapies and advice. However, it is possible to reduce the frequency and intensity of your loved ones’ episodes by gaining awareness of situations and events that can be triggers for them. 

The most common situations that can trigger bipolar episodes include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress from major life events
  •  Erratic schedules
  • Caffeine and alcohol
  • Certain types of medication
  • Seasonal changes
  • Stopping bipolar medication
  • Substance abuse
  • Thyroid problems

How do you Support Someone with Bipolar?

If your loved one is living with bipolar they will likely experience extreme mood changes, which can severely affect their energy and activity levels, sleep patterns and other everyday behaviours. During the mood episodes they may even experience psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions which can be frightening and dangerous for those around them.

What you can do to support a family member or friend with bipolar disorder:

  • Learn about bipolar – Educate yourself about the disorder from reputable websites, books and articles.
  • Listen and support them even during the very difficult times – pay attention to what they have to say and what they are going through. It may be easy to dismiss their feelings due to their illness.
  • Watch out for symptoms – you may have a clearer perspective than they do when their bipolar symptoms are active. Make sure they get help ASAP.
  • Stick to a schedule – disruptions in schedules can be a trigger so help them stick to routines as much as possible.
  • Do things together – People with depression often pull away from loved ones or things that they enjoy, encourage them to participate in the things they love with the people they love.
  • Keep communication open – Discuss any concerns you may have. Talking to a therapist together can help to navigate the emotions you may be feeling.
  • Take care of yourself – Continue to do the things you enjoy, it’s so important for you to stay mentally and physically healthy. Establish your own support network.
  • Encourage them to seek help – treatments have come a long way and continuing untreated can exacerbate symptoms.
  • Encourage their treatment – It may be hard for them to take their medication and get regular checkups and counselling.  
  • Don’t stop believing in them – especially during times they may not believe in themselves.
  • Continue to love them – even when you want to give up.
  • Don’t give up hope – with the right treatments, management and time, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can improve.

A good tool to help a loved one navigate their illness is to develop a plan for how the family will manage during difficult periods. While they are in a good headspace, sit down and talk about how things will be handled should they experience an episode. Having a crisis plan in place can offer peace of mind and confidence for the future for all involved.

Relationships with Bipolar Disorder

Being in a relationship can be challenging at the best of times and understanding and support is the key to most successful partnerships. But bipolar disorder can pose unique challenges to your relationship. Understanding the complications that can be caused by bipolar disorder is the first step to supporting them and strengthening your relationship.

Intimacy

The extreme mood swings associated with bipolar disorder can significantly affect intimacy between a couple. During manic episodes, an individual may desire more intimacy, frequent sex or engage in risky behaviour such as extramarital affairs. However, during depressive episodes, your partner may choose to avoid any intimacy which can feel like rejection. Likewise, many medications for bipolar can lower their libido.

Work

Bipolar disorder can significantly affect your partner’s performance at work. Manic symptoms such as poor judgement and impulsivity or depressive symptoms such as low energy and disinterest can challenge their ability to hold down a job. Work stressors can also exacerbate or trigger episodes.

Parenting

Parenting can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have but it usually comes with a lot of stress. As stress is a major trigger for a lot of people with bipolar parenting can be a challenge. Likewise, the erratic behaviour associated with bipolar disorder can be confusing and scary for children who look to parents for stability. Maintaining treatment to control symptoms is essential for providing a safe and secure home for your family.

What Can You Do as a Partner to Someone with Bipolar Disorder?

Couples Therapy

Couples counselling can help you understand that the illness may have a role in any hurtful behaviour and help you forgive any shifts in behaviour during episodes. It can also help you to set boundaries with a partner about maintaining treatment.

Get involved with Treatment

Getting involved with your partner’s treatment can have many benefits for your relationship. It can help you to gain a better understanding and help you to learn to spot signs of impending episodes. You can also provide additional insight for the psychiatrist and alert them of any mood changes.

If you’re worried about your partner with bipolar disorder, encourage them to seek professional help. At Maple we have a lot of experience supporting people with bipolar. Our pervading family values and friendly specialists give you and your loved ones peace of mind and exceptional support to pursue a happy, fulfilling, and independent life. Reach out to us today.