How to help a loved one with bipolar disorder?

Published 25 Feb 2023 • By Candice Salomé

The role of family and friends, while sometimes complicated, is key to the success of a bipolar patient's treatment.

There are many ways for family members to get involved: gaining a better understanding of the disease and its treatments, ensuring that treatment is taken properly, or monitoring for relapses.

But what difficulties can family members of bipolar patients face? How best to help a loved one with bipolar disorder? How to help them take their treatment properly?

We tell you everything in our article!

How to help a loved one with bipolar disorder?

What is Bipolar Disorders?

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive psychosis) is characterized by mood swings that are disproportionate in duration and intensity.

Thus, joy becomes exaggerated euphoria, sadness turns into a deep depression.

The behavioral disorders that accompany these phases have a heavy impact on the patient's daily life and degrade his or her family and professional relationships.

The phases of excitement and depression that characterize bipolar disorder vary from patient to patient. It is an illness with serious consequences that can lead to suicide and requires long-term treatment.

>> To learn more about bipolar disorder, check out our dedicated article! <<

What are some of the challenges that family members of patients with bipolar disorder may face?

Bipolar disorder greatly affects a person's mood, which oscillates between phases of euphoria, when they feel hyperactive, and phases of depression, sometimes with delusions or hallucinations, which are called psychoses.

Living with a bipolar loved one can be very complicated, especially if there is no treatment.

The repercussions of behavioral problems during manic phases and the feeling of powerlessness to relieve suffering during depressive phases weigh on family and friends.

In addition, patients with bipolar disorder have different attitudes towards the illness. Some refuse to admit that they are ill, others may feel rejected and misunderstood by their loved ones or become aggress when their treatments are discussed. Finally, guilt often accompanies patients when they realize the consequences of the illness on those around them.

Bipolar disorder thus represents a significant weight, both emotional and socio-economic, for the families and friends of patients.

How best to support a loved one with bipolar?

Learn about the illness

The best way to understand what your loved one is going through is to educate yourself and read about the experiences of those who have been diagnosed, but also to talk with loved ones of patients with bipolar disorder.

Patient associations can be a very good way to get involved in your loved one's illness:

  • Bipolar UK is the biggest charity organization in the UK supporting patients with bipolar disorder and their families. This organization offers support groups, educational materials as well as one-on-one phone and email help.
  • Hub of Hope is a UK-wide database service, assisting with finding local, national, peer, community, charity, private and NHS mental health support. There is an option to filter results to find specific kinds of support.
  • Samaritans is a 24/7 hotline for anyone, who wants to talk and seeks support - 116 123 (freephone). They also have a Welsh-speaking phone line on 0808 164 0123.

Learn to spot the warning signs of relapse

It is necessary to learn to recognize the warning signs and triggers. For example, if you notice recurring behaviors before each manic episode, you can calmly discuss them with your loved one. For example, common signs preceding a manic phase may include: increased energy, loss of sleep, or unusual spending.

Triggers can be: an alteration in physical health, problems related to daily life, a death, sleep problems...

Getting involved in the treatment

The treatment of the bipolar disorder is based on three pillars:

  • Medication,
  • Psychotherapy to manage stress and strong emotions,
  • And psychoeducation to allow the patient to become an actor of his treatment.

Family and friends can play a crucial role in the treatment and management of the bipolar disorder.

Some studies have shown that family intervention therapy is effective in reducing the relapse rate. This therapy aims to provide the family and close circle of friends with knowledge about bipolar disorder in order to facilitate changes in attitudes and, above all, to improve communication strategies with the bipolar patient.

As a result, improved family relationships reduce depressive episodes and better adherence to treatment reduces manic phases.

Often, the relatives of bipolar patients also need to be heard, supported, understood and trained by the caregivers.

Family discussions with the psychiatrist and the health care team that is taking care of the patient are important.

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Take care!

avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialises in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sport. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more


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