Supporting a loved one with a bipolar disorder diagnosis

The term ‘bipolar disorder’ can seem scary, especially if a loved one has received this diagnosis. The first step to knowing how you can help, is to learn as much as you can about bipolar. The more you know, the more you can support their recovery. Here is a little about the disorder and what you can do to help someone living with a bipolar diagnosis.

What is bipolar disorder and what are the causes?

Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects your mood. We all have our ups and downs, but people with bipolar experience intense shifts in mood causing episodes of manic highs and depressive lows that can last for days or even weeks at a time.
There is no known cause of bipolar disorder. Experts believe that there are several different factors that can make a person more likely to develop bipolar. According to the NHS, a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics and social triggers are all thought to be linked to the development of the disorder.

What are the signs?

Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme mood shifts. People can experience episodes of depression more regularly than episodes of mania, or vice versa. Between these episodes, people often have periods where they have a stable mood.
Signs of bipolar can be divided into symptoms of depression or symptoms of mania. Some people may also experience symptoms of psychosis.
Throughout episodes of mania or depression, someone living with bipolar disorder may experience unusual feelings. They may see, hear or smell things that are not present (hallucinations), but to the individual they will seem very real.
A person living with bipolar may believe things that seem illogical to others (delusions). These symptoms are identified as psychosis or a psychotic episode.

What to do if you think a loved one has bipolar

The first step would be to encourage your loved one to talk to a doctor. As there are many signs and symptoms of bipolar, it makes the condition hard to diagnose. Only trained medical professionals can diagnose bipolar.
Diagnosis is important step to accessing the necessary treatment and support. Medication, therapy, and social support can help your loved one get their symptoms under control.

How you can help a loved one cope

Living with bipolar or caring for a loved one with bipolar disorder can be difficult. Here are a few things you can do to support people with a diagnosis of bipolar:

Build a support network: Make sure you stay closely connected and show that you are there to offer care and support. A good support network is crucial to any individual.

Identify triggers: You can help your loved one monitor their moods and keep track of their symptoms and triggers. Identifying signs of a mood shift can help stop loss of control before it starts.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle: Healthy eating, exercise and good sleep all have a positive impact and will help to stabilise moods. Click here to read article from Psych Central that explains how diet, exercise, sleep and stress affect bipolar disorder.

Keep an open dialogue: When your loved one is feeling well take this opportunity to ask them how they would like to be supported. This will help you both to feel a sense of control when times are tougher.

Avoid being judgemental: For someone living with a bipolar diagnosis there will be good days and bad days. Whilst it may sometimes feel frustrating to watch a loved one express themselves in ways that are not seen as socially acceptable, it is important to remain non-judgemental. Try having a calm and honest conversation about how their actions might have made you feel when they are in a more stable mood.

Look after yourself too: Don’t forget to seek support whenever you need to. Carers UK has lots of support and advice for individuals who are caring for a loved one.

Here are some more tips for supporting someone with bipolar from Bipolar UK: “You can’t support a stable building with an unstable foundation.”

Bipolar UK offer practical information, advice and support; with advice on how to support a loved one, information on how to manage bipolar and links to useful support services.

To view their website click here.

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