They Have Bi-Polar Disorder, What Do I Do?

They Have Bi-Polar Disorder, What Do I Do?

So, you have found out that a loved one—be it a family member, partner, or roommate has received a bi-polar diagnosis. It’s expected that you may have some concerns, given how those with bi-polar diagnoses are portrayed in the media—adjectives like ‘moody’, ‘unpredictable’, and ‘unsafe’ litter different creative avenues that utilize bi-polar and other mood disorders as ‘red flags’ in a story.

The truth is, living with a person who has bipolar disorder can be just as safe and manageable as living with a neurotypical person—with your understanding and support.

Individuals with bipolar disorder have full capacity to lead fulfilling lives and maintain healthy relationships, and by recognizing and supporting that, you have a unique capacity to be able to help and assist that person to have a stable home to return to when facing the world’s prejudices.

One common misconception is that bipolar individuals are always unpredictable and prone to violent behavior. However, this is not the case for the vast majority of people with bipolar disorder. With proper treatment and support, including medication management and psychotherapy, individuals with bipolar disorder can (and do) manage their symptoms effectively and lead stable, fulfilling lives.

Another misconception is that living with someone who has bipolar disorder is always going to be difficult and stressful. While supporting a loved one with bipolar disorder can have its challenges, it can also be very rewarding. Many people with bipolar disorder are correlated to be highly intelligent1, creative2, and compassionate individuals who contribute positively to their relationships and communities.

It is important to remember that bipolar disorder is a medical condition that requires understanding and empathy. With the right treatment and support, individuals with bipolar disorder can live fulfilling lives and maintain healthy relationships with their loved ones—but communication and active support is key.

Playing a part in supporting a loved one with bipolar disorder at home can make a significant difference in their well-being. Here are some ways to help:

  1. Learn about the disorder: Educate yourself about bipolar disorder3 to better understand the challenges your loved one may face. This can help you provide more effective support.
  2. Encourage treatment: Encourage your loved one to follow their treatment plan, including taking medication as prescribed and attending therapy sessions. Offer to help schedule appointments or provide reminders where relevant and able.
  3. Create a supportive environment: Foster a stable and predictable home environment. Maintain a regular daily routine and ensure a good balance of rest, activity, and social interaction for yourself, and encourage the same for your loved one.
  4. Be patient and understanding: Be patient and empathetic during mood swings or difficult episodes. Understand that symptoms of bipolar disorder are beyond their control, and that challenges arising from these episodes may be better addressed at a different time.
  5. Communicate openly: Encourage open and honest communication. Listen actively and validate their feelings. Express your support and willingness to help.
  6. Encourage healthy habits: Support healthy lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep. Encourage a shared space avoidant of alcohol and recreational drugs, as they can worsen symptoms.
  7. Help with stress management: Assist your loved one in finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as mindfulness, yoga, or relaxation techniques.
  8. Monitor mood changes: Pay attention to changes in mood or behavior and communicate any concerns directly. Help the loved one to develop a mood chart or a shared communication system to best address challenges before they arise.
  9. Offer practical help: Help with daily tasks when needed, such as household chores, childcare, or running errands. Bipolar disorder often leads to difficulties in managing ‘executive tasks’ that come with house (and self) maintenance.
  10. Take care of yourself: Supporting someone with bipolar disorder can be challenging. Remember to take care of your own physical and emotional well-being. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if needed.

Fighting the stigma of bipolar disorder can be challenging, and your loved one will likely learn that prejudice surrounding the diagnosis and the need for self-advocacy are interconnected—there are several strategies that can be employed to address both aspects effectively.

Sharing personal stories and experiences is a powerful tool in combating stigma. By openly discussing the individual journey with bipolar disorder, your loved one can raise awareness and foster understanding among their peers and communities.

Seeking support from others facing similar challenges can also be empowering. Support groups4 for individuals with bipolar disorder provide a safe space to share experiences and coping strategies, contributing to a sense of community and solidarity.

Finding a sense of belonging in numbers can also help in promoting advocacy for change surrounding misrepresentation of bipolar disorder. By addressing misinformation and promoting accurate portrayals of the condition, individuals can help change public perceptions.

By implementing these strategies, you and your loved one can help fight the stigma of bipolar disorder, advocate for change, and support others affected by the condition.

Resources

  1. Gale, C. R., Batty, G. D., McIntosh, A. M., Porteous, D. J., Deary, I. J., & Rasmussen, F. (2013). Is bipolar disorder more common in highly intelligent people? A cohort study of a million men. Molecular psychiatry18(2), 190–194.
  2. Johnson, S. L., Murray, G., Fredrickson, B., Youngstrom, E. A., Hinshaw, S., Bass, J. M., Deckersbach, T., Schooler, J., & Salloum, I. (2012). Creativity and bipolar disorder: touched by fire or burning with questions?. Clinical psychology review32(1), 1–12.
  3. Everett, A. (2019, April 26). Living with bipolar disorder: How family and friends can help. SAMHSA.
  4. DBSA. (2024, February 20). Find an in-person support group. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

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