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Helping a Family Member with Bipolar Disorder

helping a loved one with bipolar disorder

Once often referred to as “manic depression,” the National Institute of Mental Health describes bipolar disorder as a condition that results in sudden, inexplicable shifts in traits like a person’s mood, activity, ability to concentrate, and ability to complete daily tasks. Without treatment, symptoms can inhibit someone’s quality of life and potentially place their safety at risk. 

If you have a family member who is living with bipolar disorder, you may be wondering of ways that you can help them manage their condition. By supporting them, educating yourself, and setting healthy boundaries, you can become an effective support for them during their treatment. 

How to Help a Parent, Child, or Sibling with Bipolar Disorder

Educate Yourself on Bipolar Disorder

Absorb as much reliable information on bipolar disorder and also the specific type of bipolar disorder that your loved one lives with. You may also want to consult a medical professional that is experienced in treating bipolar disorder for further insights and guidance. 

Look for Signs that They Are Experiencing an Episode 

Symptoms of bipolar disorder are typically separated into two categories: manic and depressive episodes. 

Symptoms of a manic episode might include: 

  • Excitable, jumpy, or energetic demeanor
  • Higher activity levels 
  • Disorganized or racing thoughts
  • More talkative than usual
  • Increased irritability and agitation
  • Euphoric feelings of confidence and self-esteem 
  • Reduced sleep 
  • Impulsive decision-making 

A depressive episode could involve symptoms such as: 

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness 
  • Increased irritability 
  • Noticeable changes in body weight 
  • Insomnia or oversleeping 
  • Low-energy or fatigue 
  • Difficulty assembling coherent thoughts
  • Suicidal ideation, planning, or attempt
  • Feelings of guilt or low self-esteem 

Take an Active Role in Their Treatment

Treating bipolar disorder can often involve a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and medical care. Show support for them by helping them schedule their appointments, offering to accompany them if they do not want to go alone, and checking in to make sure they are taking any prescribed medications as directed. 

If the person who has bipolar disorder is an adult, they may elect to designate you as an emergency contact or authorize their medical information to be shared with you. This can empower you to be a more involved support system for them as they manage their symptoms and treatment. 

Plan for When Episodes Happen

How will you interact with your loved one when they are feeling a sense of mania or depression? Having an actionable plan in place can help you prepare for these moments and remain calm during them. You can also consult with a medical professional for advice to help you better support your family member when they are experiencing symptoms. 

Keep a Record of Any Emergency Episodes

Does your loved one with bipolar disorder experience severe episodes that could put their safety at risk? Keep a private record for yourself so that you can track the frequency of these episodes and what occurred during them. If an emergency situation arises, you can share these observations with those providing care to your loved one to give them more context into the struggles that your family member is dealing with. 

If the person is experiencing a true crisis, do not hesitate to intervene by calling 911 for assistance. Place their safety before documenting an account of their episode. 

Continue to Love Them as Your Family Member

Family members who live with mental health conditions are not defined by them. These are people that we love who are experiencing an illness. Like any other condition that could affect their quality of life, we want the best for them and desire to support them in their treatment.

Try considering the condition, symptoms, and struggles from your loved one’s perspective. This can help you develop a clearer and more compassionate view of what they are experiencing. 

Continue involving your loved one in family activities, engage with them socially, and partake in activities that they enjoy with them. This can help maintain a sense of stability and normalcy in their lives as they cope with their condition and pursue a treatment plan. 

Set Healthy Boundaries 

Matching a person with bipolar disorder’s intensity during an episode can only worsen the situation. When they are experiencing extreme symptoms, remain calm and communicative with them. 

However, this does not mean that you cannot set boundaries. Having boundaries can help you better support them and may alert them that they are in a manic or depressive episode. 

Some examples of healthy boundaries you can set with a loved one who has bipolar disorder can include: 

  • Establishing standards for behavior and communication such as no throwing objects, name-calling, cursing, or making threats 
  • Require them to bring you a receipt for any purchase you lent them money for 
  • Creating a reward system for them taking their medication consistently, such as going out to dinner on Friday if they take their medication each day beforehand
  • Knowing when an extreme episode is beyond your limits and when it is time to contact emergency services or a medical professional 
  • Require your whole household to share their phone locations with one another 
  • Forbid any drugs from being kept or used in the home 
  • Do not keep alcohol in the house unless you want to permit for a social event 
  • Keep any weapons at home in a secure safe that only you have the code for 

As you think of your own boundaries you might want to set with your loved one, consider applying them to all members of the household. This can help the person with bipolar disorder feel less “singled out” and ensure that everyone is being treated fairly and consistently. 

Get Help for Bipolar Disorder Today

At Compassion Behavioral Health, or team of medical professionals and licensed psychotherapists treat individuals experiencing bipolar disorder nationwide from our community in beautiful South Florida. To learn more about how we can help you or your loved one receive the treatment they need, contact us online anytime or call us at (844) 999-0874.