Nearly 3% of the U.S. population had a bipolar diagnosis in the past year. Bipolar disorder can feel extremely lonely and isolating —both for the person suffering from it and their loved ones. The good news is help and healing are available. If you’re wondering how to help someone with bipolar, you’re in the right place.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, which is sometimes referred to as manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. These shifts impact a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks and range from periods of extreme “ups” in which their behavior is elated, irritated, or energized — which are known as manic episodes — to extreme “downs,” which are characterized by sad, indifferent, or hopeless feelings — known as a depressive episode.
There are three types of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I disorder: Bipolar “one” is defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days or by manic symptoms that are so severe the person needs hospital care. The depressive episodes that follow often last two weeks
- Bipolar II disorder: Bipolar “two” is defined by a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes that are less intense than those of bipolar I.
- Cyclothymic disorder: Cyclothymia is defined by recurring hypomanic and depressive episodes that are not intense enough or don’t last long enough to qualify as hypomanic or depressive episodes.
What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
The most common symptoms of bipolar disorder are:
- Feeling extremely happy or excited, even without valid reasons.
- Racing thoughts.
- Being full of new ideas.
- Moving quickly from one idea to the next.
- Hearing voices that others can’t.
- Experiencing more irritability than usual.
- Feeling much better about yourself than normal.
- Being easily distracted.
- Not being able to sleep.
- Feeling as if you don’t want/need to sleep.
- Thinking you can do much more than you actually can.
- Making big decisions without thinking them through.
- Doing concerning things that you usually wouldn’t do such as:
- Spending lots of money.
- Using drugs and/or alcohol.
Hypomania is similar to mania, but the symptoms are less intense.
- Feeling “down.”
- Experiencing a drop in energy.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Feeling guilty.
- Feeling helpless.
- Feeling worthless.
- Having little to no interest in things you usually enjoy.
- Feeling irritable and restless.
- Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep.
- Eating less or eating too much.
- Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts.
Sometimes, bipolar symptoms can appear in children, but the disorder is most commonly diagnosed during the late teen years or early adulthood.
What Are the Causes of Bipolar Disorder?
Although researchers still don’t know exactly what causes bipolar disorder, they’ve found that it is likely a combination of factors that lead to an increased risk of developing the disorder. Those factors include:
- Childhood trauma
- Stressful life events
- Brain chemistry
- Family history
- Medication, drugs, and alcohol
Supporting a Loved one with Bipolar Disorder
Offering support to a loved one with bipolar disorder is one of the most important things you can do. We understand that it can be hard to know the right thing to say or do to show your support. Here are some top tips to help:
Learn Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Support Your Loved One
Learning healthy coping skills to navigate stressful situations is important to step in managing bipolar disorder. Examples of these coping skills that you can learn to master and then teach your loved one with bipolar include:
Keep a daily journal to track your mood and all events that influence it — from meals and sleep to medication and events.
Develop a Schedule
Routine plays an important role in keeping your mood stable. Create and stick to a schedule regardless of mood changes.
Do what you can to limit stress in your life, whether it’s working shorter hours or committing to fewer social events.
Regular exercise is another great way to manage mood.
Join a Support Group
It can be very reassuring to hear from people going through similar experiences as you. Support groups offer great advice, comfort, as well as knowing you are not alone.
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol and drugs can worsen your mood and exacerbate the symptoms of bipolar.
Know What Resources Are Available to Help Your Loved One
As lonely as bipolar disorder can feel, it’s important to remind your loved one that they are not the only one with the condition and there is support available. Resources that can help your loved one include:
- Counseling and therapy
- Virtual and in-person support groups
- National Institute of Mental Health
Create a Supportive Environment for Your Loved One
Knowing they are not alone and that you still love and support them will go a long way in your loved one’s bipolar diagnosis and journey. Some ways to foster a supportive environment include:
- Learn as much about the diagnosis as possible.
- Encourage open discussions with them about their feelings, mood swings, and anything else they want to talk about.
- Check-in with them often.
- Encourage therapy and attend it with them or drive them there.
- Create an episode plan. The scariest part about bipolar disorder can often be not knowing when the next episode will strike — and what it will interrupt. Here are some tips for creating an episode plan to ease some of that anxiety:
- Discuss what they want or need during an episode.
- Ask what triggers should be avoided.
- Write down the phone numbers of their psychiatrist or therapist and put them in an easily accessible place.
- Write down what medications their on daily and if there are any they’re supposed to take when an episode starts.
Be Mindful of Self-Care When Supporting a Loved One with Bipolar Disorder
You can’t pour from an empty cup, and as overwhelming as caring for a loved one with bipolar can be, you also have to take care of yourself. Make sure you carve out time for self-care when supporting a loved one with bipolar disorder. Here are some things to consider:
- Watch your diet and fuel up on healthy foods, like vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains.
- Get outside. Even a quick 10-minute stroll around the block can boost your mood and help you de-stress.
- Get active. Find physical activities you enjoy, whether it’s walking, swimming, yoga, pilates, etc.
- Stick to a consistent sleep schedule.
- Consider therapy for yourself. Caring for a loved one with bipolar disorder can be draining. Speaking with a professional can help you learn new tools and techniques to cope with this added stress.
Be Patient and Offer Compassionate Support
Offer compassionate support to your loved one by listening without judgment. Don’t assume you know all the answers, and let them know their feelings are valid.
Be patient with your loved one and stick with them through the bad times. Don’t let their bad days scare you away, and make sure they don’t hide away from the world during depressive episodes. Instead, let them know you are there for them no matter what to talk, understand, and be supportive.
Olympus Recovery Can Help
Wondering how to help someone with bipolar and not sure where to turn? Olympus Recovery is here for you. At Olympus Recovery, we recognize the needs and experiences of each individual client, and our program was designed with that in mind. Contact us today to learn more about our therapy options.