Very recently I was asked for advice on something that is very important regarding Bipolar Disorder and loved ones. How do you talk to someone with Bipolar Disorder? What can you do to show support to a loved one with Bipolar?
Most of us reading this know that it’s a sensitive subject and all too often someone will say the wrong thing and we may react in a manner that is the start of the next world war. It is imperative to have a solid support system. Loved ones who you can trust to be there for you no matter what, and who can help you out with your Bipolar Disorder during an episode.
I’ve compiled a list of some ways loved ones can show their support in the most effective manner possible.
Validate the disorder and take your loved one seriously. This is possibly the most important thing to remember, and could make or break your relationship with your person. Validate that what they are feeling is real and not ‘just in their head’. Accept that they have some limitations and that the limitations are part of the Bipolar Disorder. If there was something they could do yesterday, but cannot do it today, believe that it’s true, and accept that it is part of it, but that it will be okay.
Tell your loved one that you are there for them and that you love them no matter what. Bipolar Disorder is a very involved illness and every individual with BP is unique, with unique symptoms, which may progress over time. They need to know that you are not going to judge them or become annoyed with their disorder. Many people with Bipolar tend to experience feelings of guilt. Offer that reassurance that it is not their fault, and you do not blame them for them having BP.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and for your loved one is to learn about Bipolar Disorder. This includes the different types, the symptoms, the treatments, and everything involved. There is no cure for Bipolar Disorder- only treatment, meaning BP will be in your loved one’s life for the rest of their life. Encourage them to help you learn. There are many excellent books, websites, and organizations that provide resources.
Bipolar Disorder is not an easy diagnosis to swallow, nor is it that easy to live with. Try to remember for all the frustration and irritation you may feel, your loved one feels it even more so. They may even feel guilt for being sick, or experience low self-esteem. Bipolar people can be easily distracted, have difficulty with concentration and focus, and be forgetful. Expressing anger and frustration will only make a bad situation worse. It is crucial that you have patience.
Show your loved one respect when it comes to their Bipolar Disorder. Please watch that you do not treat them as if they are less-than or stupid. Don’t say things to make them feel like they’re crazy. Bipolar is just like any other illness and you wouldn’t look at someone with Diabetes or high blood pressure like they’re a damaged good. It’s the same thing; just instead of a physical, medical condition, your loved one has a mood condition- or chemical imbalance in the brain. Another way to show respect is to take your loved one for their word and don’t try to push them. If something is bothering them, don’t make light of it and assume that it is petty, and expect them to move on. Respect that if they get into a certain mood, and have to handle a situation their own way, that this is probably preventative and they are controlling a potential trigger.
You can help your loved one not just by saying you’ll be there for them, but by actually being there. Participate in things like scheduling appointments and offer to help organize things at home. If he or she needs help managing medications, go ahead and offer your assistance. My wife counts mine out each week and assigns the proper pills into the daily pill sorter. As trivial as it may seem to someone without a mood disorder, may of us with BP have a hard time with medications. (And many of us have a harder time admitting it.)
Do your loved on a favor and trust that they can still make their own decisions, even about treatment. Sure, sometimes they may need a little bit of extra help, but they can still function at a high capacity when they are well. Please do yourself the favor of trusting him or her, otherwise you will feel like the crazy person trying to keep up with every possible mood, emotion, swing, and trigger.
Here are a few tips:
• Not every swing is an episode.
• Consider external factors before jumping to conclusions.
• Don’t assume someone knows when he or she is having a manic or depressed episode, conversely, don’t assume someone doesn’t know when they is having a manic or depressed episode. Talk to them.
• Don’t get upset if he or she is forgetful. BP affects the memory, as do medications that treat BP. Try to be patient if they don’t remember things.
• Don’t assume someone is overreacting for no reason or “just being dramatic”. Overreacting is a symptom of bipolar disorder, which may lead to a dark depression or fit of rage.
• Make your friend or family member recognize and take responsibility for their illness and actions, should they become irritable or say something unkind. Then forgive them and love them regardless.
• It is not okay to joke about Bipolar Disorder, even if your loved one does so him or herself. It is a defense mechanism and their right to do so.
• Work together to recognize triggers and develop a confidence system, where you can be open with one another if you notice any behavior or thought patterns that may be unhealthy.
• Respect boundaries and don’t hover.
• Be positive and praise the progress your loved one makes.
For additional information, see: What Not to Say to Someone With Bipolar Disorder