Resources for Friends and Family
Nearly all of us have someone close to us who is living with bipolar disorder. Many times, we wonder how best to help and support them.
There is no "one size fits all" answer. I offer coaching for partners and caregivers as well as people who have been diagnosed with mood disorders. If you or someone you care about is in danger, please check this list of crisis resources.
Below I've shared some general advice for supporting and "showing up" for bipolar friends and family.
In Daily Life
Listening. Hugs. Treating them like a human being and not a diagnosis. Being supportive if they are dealing with side effects. Reminding them that you see the whole person, and that you believe they will get better.
In a Manic Episode
The most important thing is to make sure they are safe and getting treatment. This could mean helping them schedule a doctor’s appointment if they are too distracted to make the call, or driving them to an urgent care center if they do not have a doctor they see regularly, or in the most extreme case calling 911 to help them get to a hospital emergency room for psychiatric evaluation.
If the person who is manic is already seeing a doctor, the manic episode is mild, and their doctor has ok'ed them to stay at home, you may stay with them if you like. Ask if they are taking their medications. Listen to music or watch TV with them. Make sure they eat — mania frequently suppresses appetite. Let them know you care about them and will support them. Let them know this too will pass.
If you can’t stay with them for a long time, stop by and say hi. Mania is scary, both for the person experiencing it and for those around if they feel out of their depth. The most important thing, if you choose to be involved, is to have a backup plan — somebody else you can call or a clear plan of action if the situation escalates.
I have found a written plan of care to be incredibly helpful as a way to let friends and family know what to expect. Please email me if you would like a copy of the template.
In a Relationship
Tell them that you love them unconditionally. Encourage them to seek treatment, if they haven't already done so. Remind them that they are a whole person, not just a diagnosis. Help them to build a better support network with friends and family. If they are depressed or rapid cycling, don't try to talk them out of her mood. If they want to talk about their feelings, take the time to listen.
Most of all, take care of yourself. It's not your job to "fix" the other person. It's your job to accept them as they are.
Having a supportive person in our lives can make a tremendous difference.