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How To Help A Person With Bipolar Disorder

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Discover Realistic Ways To Help A Friend With Bipolar Disorder Or Someone Else You Care About

How to Help Someone with Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder is a serious but treatable mental health disorder. Symptoms of bipolar disorder include extreme changes in mood. In addition to mood changes, someone with bipolar disorder may exhibit extreme changes in energy levels, behavior, thoughts and sleep patterns. Sometimes bipolar is referred to as manic depression.

An estimated 12 million adults are affected by bipolar disorder. Symptoms usually begin when someone is in late adolescence. Someone with bipolar may initially have symptoms of depression during their teen years. For some people, bipolar symptoms may occur earlier than that.

If you know a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder, whether its a new diagnosis or not, it can be challenging. You may want to learn how to help someone with bipolar disorder, but to do so in a way that is going to be beneficial for that person. Learning how to help someone with bipolar disorder first requires learning about the disorder itself. There are misconceptions people have about bipolar and preconceived notions. Learning the reality of bipolar disorder is a great first step in how to help with bipolar disorder.

How Do Doctors Treat It

Although there’s no cure for bipolar disorder, treatment can help stabilize moods and help the person manage and control symptoms. Like other teens with long-lasting medical conditions , teens with bipolar disorder need to work closely with their doctors and other medical professionals to treat it.

This team of medical professionals, together with the teen and family, develop what is called a treatment plan. Teens with bipolar disorder will probably receive medication, such as a mood stabilizer, from a psychiatrist or other medical doctor. A psychologist or other type of counselor will provide counseling or psychotherapy for the teen and his or her family. Doctors will watch the symptoms closely and offer additional treatment advice if necessary.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder

The cause of bipolar disorder isnt clear. Research suggests that a combination of different things can make it more likely that you will develop bipolar disorder.

Genetic factors

There is a 13% chance you will develop bipolar disorder if someone in your immediate family, like a parent, brother or sister has bipolar disorder.

This risk is higher if both of your parents have the condition or if your twin has the condition.

Researchers havent found the exact genes that cause bipolar disorder. But different genes have been linked to the development of bipolar disorder.

Brain chemical imbalance

Different chemicals in your brain affect your mood and behaviour. Too much or too little of these chemicals could lead to you developing mania or depression.

Environmental factors

Stressful life events can trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder. Such as childhood abuse or the loss of a loved one. They can increase your chances of developing depressive episodes.

You can find more information about Does mental illness run in families? by clicking here.

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What Is The Treatment For Mania Hypomania And Depression

You can check what treatment and care is recommended for bipolar disorders on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence website.

NICE produce guidelines for how health professionals should treat certain conditions. You can download these from their website at:

The NHS doesnt have to follow these recommendations. But they should have a good reason for not following them.

What medications are recommended?

Mood stabilisers are usually used to manage mania, hypomania and depressive symptoms.

The mood stabilisers we talk about in this factsheet are:

  • Lithium
  • Certain benzodiazepine medication

Mania and hypomaniaYou should be offered a mood stabiliser to help manage your mania or hypomania. Your doctor may refer to your medication as antimanic medication.

If you are taking antidepressants your doctor may advise you to withdraw from taking them.

You will usually be offered an antipsychotic first. The common antipsychotics used for the treatment of bipolar disorder are:

  • Haloperidol
  • Quetiapine
  • Risperidone

If the first antipsychotic you are given doesnt work, then you should be offered a different antipsychotic medication from the list above.

If a different antipsychotic doesnt work, then you may be offered lithium to take alongside it. If the lithium doesnt work you may be offered sodium valproate to take with an antipsychotic. Sodium valproate is an anticonvulsive medication.

Sodium Valproate shouldnt be given to girls or young women who might want to get pregnant.

Watch Out For The Show Offs

How you can help someone with bipolar disorder?

Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity! Another person to avoid.

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Listen To What Your Friend Has To Say

Sometimes when someone has bipolar disorder, their feelings may be dismissed by the people around them. This may not be done on purpose or maliciously. However, its easy to start believing that everything someone with bipolar says is because of their illness.

Be a support system by listening to what your friend or loved one has to say. People with bipolar disorder want to feel heard, just like anyone else. You shouldnt make them feel silly for expressing their very real thoughts and emotions.

Being a support system doesnt mean youre providing advice or even doing anything to be helpful besides active listening. As an active listener, stay calm, pay attention, and dont try to engage in arguments or debates.

Discuss Behaviour You Find Challenging

  • 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.

“What feels real is real for him in that moment. It helps when I respect that and comfort him rather than trying to explain it’s not ‘real’ for everyone else.”

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Engage In Open And Honest Communication

Speaking openly, honestly and frequently with your loved one about their bipolar disorder is crucial to enabling them to cope effectively. Ask them how they are feeling and what you can do to help them. Share your concerns with them in a calm and loving way. Let them know that you are always there to help them and listen to them. By keeping these lines of communication open, they are more likely to come to you for support when they are experiencing difficulties. You can also help them keep mood diaries, which would show their pattern of mood changes, and any triggers that could be potentially identified.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed

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To diagnose bipolar disorder, a doctor or other health care provider may:

  • Complete a full physical exam.
  • Order medical testing to rule out other illnesses.
  • Refer the person for an evaluation by a psychiatrist.

A psychiatrist or other mental health professional diagnoses bipolar disorder based on the symptoms, lifetime course, and experiences of the individual. Some people have bipolar disorder for years before it is diagnosed. This may be because:

  • Bipolar disorder has symptoms in common with several other mental health disorders. A doctor may think the person has a different disorder, such as schizophrenia or depression.
  • Family and friends may notice the symptoms, but not realize that the symptoms are part of a more significant problem.
  • People with bipolar disorder often have other health conditions, which can make it hard for doctors to diagnose bipolar disorder.

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How Can You Help Someone With Bipolar Disorder

Dealing with the ups and downs of bipolar disorder can be difficultand not just for the person with the illness. The moods and behaviors of a person with bipolar disorder affect everyone aroundespecially family members and close friends. It can put a strain on your relationship and disrupt all aspects of family life.

During a manic episode, you may have to cope with reckless antics, outrageous demands, explosive outbursts, and irresponsible decisions. And once the whirlwind of mania has passed, it often falls on you to deal with the consequences. During episodes of depression, you may have to pick up the slack for a loved one who doesnt have the energy to meet responsibilities at home or work.

The good news is that most people with bipolar disorder can stabilize their moods with proper treatment, medication, and support. Your patience, love, and understanding can play a significant part in your loved ones treatment and recovery. Often, just having someone to talk to can make all the difference to their outlook and motivation.

But caring for a person with bipolar disorder can also take a toll if you neglect your own needs, so its important to find a balance between supporting your loved one and taking care of yourself.

How To Cope With Bipolar Disorder

No matter how down or out of control you feel, its important to remember that youre not powerless when it comes to bipolar disorder. Beyond the treatment you get from your doctor or therapist, there are many things you can do for yourself to reduce your symptoms and stay on track.

Living well with bipolar disorder requires certain adjustments. Like diabetics who take insulin or recovering alcoholics who avoid drinking, if you have bipolar disorder, its important to make healthy choices for yourself. Making these healthy choices will help you keep your symptoms under control, minimize mood episodes, and take control of your life.

Managing bipolar disorder starts with proper treatment, including medication and therapy. But there is so much more you can do to help yourself on a day-to-day basis. These tips can help you influence the course of your illness, enabling you to take greater control over your symptoms, to stay well longer, and to quickly rebound from any mood episode or relapse.

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What Are The Different Types Of Bipolar Disorder

There are different types of bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder I disorder?

A diagnosis of bipolar I disorder means you will have had at least 1 episode of mania that lasts longer than 1 week. You may also have periods of depression. Manic episodes will generally last 3-6 months if left untreated. Depressive episodes will generally last 6-12 months without treatment.

What is bipolar II disorder?

A diagnosis of bipolar II disorder means it is common to have symptoms of depression. You will have had at least 1 period of major depression. And at least 1 period of hypomania instead of mania.

What is bipolar I or II disorder with mixed features?

You will experience symptoms of mania or hypomania and depression at the same time. You may hear this being called mixed bipolar state. You may feel very sad and hopeless at the same time as feeling restlessness and being overactive.

What is bipolar I or II disorder with rapid cycling?

Rapid cycling means you have had 4 or more depressive, manic or hypomanic episodes in a 12-month period.

What is bipolar I or II with seasonal pattern?

Seasonal pattern means that either your depression, mania or hypomania is regularly affected in the same way by the seasons. For example, you may find that each winter you have a depressive episode, but your mania doesnt regularly follow a pattern.

There can be some similarities between bipolar I or II with seasonal pattern and another conditional called seasonal affective disorder.

Do People With Bipolar Disorder Know They Have The Condition Before Getting Diagnosed

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Sometimes. For example, Ayetoro had suspicions for years before officially being diagnosed in 2014.

I experienced what I thought were abnormal swings in mood from very high energy to very low energy for a very long time before. My moods would get so low that I was spending unusual amounts of time in bed depressed, she recalls. It was strange that this depression would follow periods of extremely high spirits.

She experienced two manic episodes before receiving her diagnosis. It was somewhat of a relief to put a name to what was with me, but then began the hard road to stability.

On the other hand, Howard was surprised to receive a diagnosis of bipolar I with psychosis at age 25. As for what made me believe I may have had an illness literally nothing. I was tricked into going to the hospital. Up until the moment I was admitted, I thought everything was normal. It was quite the shock.

Who would I be without bipolar disorder? Id love to find out, he adds. But harnessing my mind and using it to the best of my ability has been my lifes work.

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How To Help Someone Stay On Their Bipolar Medication

Just like someone with type 1 diabetes will always need insulin, a person with bipolar disorder will likely need to take medication for their whole life. Research shows that many of those who stop often find their symptoms return within a year.

As important as it is, people often don’t stay the course with their medication. There are some common reasons why someone might skip doses or stop taking drugs. If you have a friend or family member with bipolar disorder, you can help them stick with it. And knowing the reason the person quits using the medicine can help.

Make sure you tell them that you care about them, that you believe medication is key to their being well, and that you’ll be there to support and help them along the way.

The reason: The drugs don’t seem to be working.

Encourage patience. Many medications can take up to 8 weeks to kick in. So it’s not unusual to think they’re not working at first. Sometimes, they and their doctor may need to experiment for months or even years before settling on the right drugs and doses. Reassure them that most people are eventually glad they stuck with the process because they end up feeling a lot better.

The reason: They just forget.

The reason: They hate the side effects.

The reason: They just refuse.

There could be a number of reasons someone refuses to take a medicine. They might have a concern they’re not willing to talk about. Or they may not want to accept that they have a mental illness or that they need medicine.

What Families Can Do

  • Educate yourself about the illness

  • Support your family member to manage their illness

  • Believe in them, especially in times when they may not believe in themselves

  • Continue to love them even when you want to give up

“When my wife is in a manic state, I worry constantly about what might happen. I can cope as long as I know she’s getting better. I cant give up hope.”

Education and support can greatly aid families who have a relative with bipolar disorder.

More information on how you can help your family member effectively manage their illness can be found in the Family Toolkit, available at:

About the author

The Mood Disorders Association of BC is dedicated to providing support, education, and hope for recovery for those living with a mood disorder or other mental illness. For more, visit or call 1-604-873-0103.

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The Impacts Of Bipolar Anger

When left unchecked, bipolar anger can lead to many negative side effects. The constant state of being out of control, angry, and irritable takes an enormous toll on everyone. Thats because bipolar anger can cause people to lose their most important relationships, including spouses, children, friends, and colleagues.

Both you and your partner may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms in response. For example:

Listen To Your Loved One

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Another way you can support a loved one with bipolar disorder is to listen. Your loved one’s needs to know that they can talk about the challenges they are dealing with. You don’t need to have all the answersyou just need to be willing to listen openly and express support for what your loved one is feeling.

As you listen, remember that your words and your attitude are also important. Even if you cannot fully understand what they are experiencing, you should avoid doing things like blaming or getting angry.

Try not to take the individual’s behaviors personally, even if you do get frustrated. During a manic or depressive episode, your loved one may behave in ways that are unexpected or even hurtful. They may be irritable, aggressive, moody, hostile, or reckless.

Try to remember that these actions are symptoms of the condition and not a reflection on you. As a source of support, your attitude can play a role in shaping how your loved one feels about their ability to cope and successfully manage their symptoms.

Mental health stigma can be shaming, isolating, and detrimental to treatment. Focus on staying positive and helping your loved one feel empowered.

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Tips For Interacting With Someone Who Experiences Bipolar Anger

Interacting with someone who experiences the symptoms of bipolar anger can be challenging. So first, practice healthy coping skills to avoid the common pitfalls discussed above. As you begin to understand your loved ones condition better, youll also learn to anticipate and manage their anger.

In the meantime, here are a dozen quick strategies to help you cope until you can find a therapist:

  • Hold Them Accountable Let them know who their angry outbursts make you feel.
  • Protect Your Boundaries Dont become complacent or easily persuaded by passive aggression.
  • Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected Mind your reactions to their anger, and dont stoke the fire.
  • Engage with Positivity Try not to be discouraging or overly critical of their condition.
  • Be Encouraging Offer inspiration to calm down with friendly and positive reminders.
  • Redirect Outbursts Find a way to distract them and pull their attention to something else.
  • Avoid Triggers Learn what sets them off and eliminate them from your lifestyle.
  • Practice Self-Care Take care of yourself to think and act reasonably.
  • Promote Healthy Choices Say nice things when achieving a goal or meeting a deadline.
  • Work on Your Responses Actively train your brain to respond differently to anger and rage.
  • Support Individuality Give your loved ones space to explore and understand their mentality.
  • Discuss Family/Couples Counseling Bring it up gently and talk about the pros and cons.
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