Supporting someone with Bipolar Disorder

When someone you care about has bipolar, a condition that affects moods, it can be difficult to know how to support and be there for them. People with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) will experience extreme mood swings, going from depression to mania.

During depressive episodes, they’re likely to feel very unmotivated, very low and lethargic. During manic episodes, this changes to feeling very ‘high’ and overactive. They may make poor decisions and in extreme cases may experience psychosis.

Through psychotherapy and medication, symptoms of bipolar can be managed and many people live well with the condition. Having said this, there can be trials and tribulations, especially if the person in question is avoiding professional support.

As a friend and someone who cares about them, there are several things you can do to help.

Perhaps the first thing you should look to do, if you haven’t already, is to read up about the condition. The more you understand how it can affect people, the better positioned you are to help. Keep in mind however that, like most mental health conditions, bipolar affects everyone differently.

Have an honest conversation with your friend when they’re feeling well about how you can best support them when they’re experiencing a manic episode.  Some ideas you could discuss include helping them develop a routine, having fun together doing something creative or suggesting they ask for support if starting a new project so they don’t take too much on themselves.

As mentioned, everyone experiences bipolar disorder differently and this means your friend will have certain warning signs or triggers for you to be mindful of.  The best way to find these out is by talking to them. Note any patterns and talk to them in a gentle way about any behaviours you’ve noticed before they have a depressive/manic episode.

Triggers like stress and overwhelm can bring on an episode, so try to look out for anything you think may be triggering and discuss ways of avoiding or managing them.

Working with an experienced therapist can help people with bipolar disorder to better understand the nature of their illness and recognise the triggers of their manic or depressive episodes. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular approach as it is designed to help individuals change negative thought patterns and learn new coping skills. Family therapy is another approach often used in bipolar treatment as it helps to improve communication between family members and the person living with the condition.

World Bipolar Day

World Bipolar Day (30th March) is a day designed to raise awareness of a condition that affects around one in every 100 adults. As with many mental health conditions, bipolar disorder can often be misunderstood.

Stereotypes and myths can lead people to believe those with bipolar are completely erratic, wildly productive, or even have ‘split personality’.

The idea of having a ‘split personality’ largely comes from a condition that was once called ‘multiple personality disorder’ (now known as dissociative identity disorder) and Hollywood’s misinterpretations.

Bipolar disorder doesn’t affect a person’s identity, instead it causes them to have depressive and manic episodes. When the person is going through a depressive episode, they’re likely to feel very low and unable to cope. When they experience mania, they may feel euphoric, as if they can do anything. Both have their dangers for a person’s mental well-being.

 

Some people think the mania side of the condition is positive, but many people with the condition would disagree. When someone is experiencing mania, they may not feel like they need sleep, their thoughts can jump quickly from subject to subject and they may struggle to focus.

 

The episode can make people experience ‘grandiose’ ideas, which affects decision-making abilities. This can lead to risky behaviour (such as leaving their job or getting themselves in high-risk situations).

While bipolar disorder is less common than depression, the World Health Organisation says it’s the 6th leading cause of disability in the world. However, bipolar disorder affects everyone differently. Unlike a typical mood swing, the condition causes people to feel these changes much more deeply. Instead of happy to sad, they can go from euphoric to deeply depressed.

For some people, the swings will be rapid and intense (this is called rapid cycling), while others may feel one extreme, such as depression, much more often than mania (or vice versa).

Working with an experienced therapist can help people with bipolar disorder to better understand the nature of their illness and recognise the triggers of their manic or depressive episodes. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular approach as it is designed to help individuals change negative thought patterns and learn new coping skills. Family therapy is another approach often used in bipolar treatment as it helps to improve communication between family members and the person living with the condition.