10 tips to help you support someone with Bipolar

Supporting someone with bipolar disorder doesn't mean sacrificing your own well-being. It’s crucial to maintain personal boundaries and self-care. Communicate



12 months ago

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Offering support to a loved one with bipolar disorder is an ongoing learning curve, fraught with its own set of challenges. Bipolar disorder, a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression), can deeply affect individuals and those closest to them.

Navigating the complexities of this condition within the context of a personal relationship requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to educate oneself on what it means to truly be there for someone combating bipolar disorder. Here are 10 tips designed to guide you towards providing better support to those you care about who are living with this condition.

Tip #1: Educate Yourself

Understanding the basics of bipolar disorder is your foundation for offering effective support. Learn about the symptoms, treatment options, and coping strategies. Familiarize yourself with potential triggers for mood episodes and the impact of medication. The more you know, the more equipped you’ll be to support your loved one through their highs and lows.

Tip #2: Tread Softly in the Sea of Symptoms

Bipolar disorder can manifest in a myriad of symptoms, from risky behavior during manic episodes to feelings of despair during depressive phases. Stay attuned to your loved one’s moods and behaviors without judgment. Acknowledge that the symptoms of bipolar disorder are not controllable whims but physiological changes within their brain, and handle them with sensitivity.

Tip #3: Validate Their Experiences

The emotional rollercoaster of bipolar disorder is very real to the person experiencing it. Stay away from invalidating phrases such as “it’s all in your head,” and instead, offer validation. Phrases like “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you” or “I hear that you’re struggling, and that’s really tough” can go a long way in acknowledging their experiences.

Tip #4: Encourage Consistent Treatment

Consistency is key in managing bipolar disorder. Encourage your loved one to stick to their treatment plan, which usually includes a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle adjustments. Offer to accompany them to appointments, or help them track their moods and medications, serving as a gentle reminder when needed.

Tip #5: Practice Patience and Flexibility

Supporting someone with bipolar disorder may require you to change your plans at the drop of a hat, especially during unexpected mood swings. Patience and flexibility are your greatest allies in these moments. It’s important to remain adaptable and supportive, knowing that these fluctuations are a natural part of the process.

Tip #6: Foster a Safe Environment for Open Communication

Establishing a safe space for open and honest communication allows your loved one to share their feelings without fear of stigma or judgment. Regular check-ins can be a simple yet effective way to encourage this type of dialogue. Also, be conscious of your body language and tone to ensure that your loved one feels heard and not dismissed.

Tip #7: Implement Self-Care, Together

Encourage self-care practices and participate in them together. Yoga, mindfulness, and deep breathing exercises can be immensely beneficial for managing stress and anxiety. Modelling these behaviors can also help reduce self-stigma and reinforce the idea that self-care is an essential part of life for everyone.

Tip #8: Assist Them in Building a Support Network

It truly takes a village to support someone with bipolar disorder. Help your loved one build a strong support network that includes friends, family, mental health professionals, and support groups. Support groups, in particular, can offer a sense of community and understanding that is invaluable for individuals coping with bipolar disorder.

Tip #9: Be Alert, Not Anxious, in Times of Crisis

Hyper-vigilance and anxiety over your loved one’s well-being can be overwhelming. Instead, strive to be alert and aware, responding calmly and objectively to any potential crises. Have a crisis plan in place, including important contact information for healthcare providers and crisis hotlines, and know your role in the event of an emergency.

Tip #10: Maintain Boundaries

Supporting someone with bipolar disorder doesn’t mean sacrificing your own well-being. It’s crucial to maintain personal boundaries and self-care. Communicate these boundaries with kindness and clarity. This may involve stepping back when you feel overwhelmed or seeking support for yourself from friends or a therapist.

Bipolar disorder challenges individuals and their support systems alike, but it doesn’t have to overshadow the love and connection you share with your loved one. By becoming an advocate for their mental health and implementing these 10 tips, you can be an invaluable part of their recovery and ongoing management of this condition. Remember that your support and understanding can make a profound difference in their life. Together, you can weather the storm and celebrate the brighter days that lie ahead.

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Medically Reviewed
Brian Richards, MD

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