How to be a good friend to someone who has bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder where you experience both manic or hypomanic episodes – where you feel very high and euphoric – and depressive episodes.
It can cause psychotic symptoms and psychosis, which can lead to hospitilastion, and is usually treated with medication.
Bipolar disorder can be a very difficult condition to live with, both for the sufferer and for loved ones around them.
And so, this Mental Health Awareness Week, we want to talk about how you can help a person with bipolar disorder.
According to Mind Charity, one way you can help is being open to talking with the person who has bipolar disorder about their experiences, to help them feel supported and accepted.
It’s also a good idea to have a plan for manic episodes – so try talking to them about how you can support them during an episode, and what they need for you.
Excessive spending is a common sign so talk to them about what you can do to help. You might be able to keep an eye on their bank statements or watch out for their drinking and eating habits.
You could also help them keep calm during an episode, by suggesting things such as being creative together, offering a second opinion about ideas – such as if they are taking on too much – and helping them with routine.
It may be hard but try to discuss any behaviour you might find challenging.
Mind says: ‘If someone is hearing or seeing things you don’t, they might feel angry, annoyed or confused if you don’t share their beliefs.
‘It’s helpful to stay calm, and let them know that, although you don’t share the belief, you understand that it feels real for them. Or, if possible, try to focus on supporting them with how they are feeling rather than confirming or challenging their perception of reality – what feels real for them is real in those moments.
‘If someone becomes very disinhibited while manic, they may do things that feel embarrassing, strange or upsetting to you.
‘It can be helpful to calmly discuss your feelings with them when they are feeling more stable.
‘Try not to be judgemental or overly critical; focus on explaining how specific things they’ve done make you feel, rather than making general statements or accusations about their actions.’
Another key to helping a person with bipolar disorder is to learn their warning signs and triggers.
Most people will have some warning signs that they are about to experience an episode of mania or depression.
The best way to learn what these are for your friend or family member is to talk to them about these and explore together what they might be.
Mind adds: ‘If you have noticed certain behaviours that normally happen before an episode, you can gently let them know.
‘Many people will also have triggers, such as stress, which can bring on an episode. You can try to understand what these triggers are for your friend or family member, and how you can help avoid or manage them.
While it’s important to be there for your friend, it’s also important to look after yourself. It can be challenging when someone is going through a manic or depressive episode, and you have to take care of yourself, too.
So if you can’t handle something or need a break, take it. Your self-care is important too. As long as you are being there for your friend as much as is healthily possible – that’s all you can do.
And, if you are worried about them and feel as though the issues are out of your hands, encourage them to seek help from their GP or mental health professional.
Just know that you are never alone, and there is other support out there.
Remember that just by caring for a person with bipolar disorder and being there as a means of support makes you a good friend – and that’s all they can ask for.
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