Caring for someone with bipolar disorder can be very hard, whether you’re a partner, parent, child, or friend of someone who has this condition. It’s stressful for everyone it touches.
It’s tough to strike a balance. You want to be supportive and empathetic, because you know the person with bipolar disorder isn’t to blame for their illness. But their behavior may affect you, and you have to take care of yourself and your needs, not just theirs.
Although there’s no easy solution, these tips may help.
Learn. Read information from reputable web sites, books, and articles that explain the condition. The more you know, the better.
Listen. Pay attention to what your loved one has to say. Don’t assume that you know what he or she is going through. Don’t dismiss all of their emotions and feelings as signs of their illness. Someone with bipolar disorder may still have valid points.
Notice their symptoms. They may not be able to see it as clearly as you do when their bipolar symptoms are active. Or they may deny it. When you see the warning signs of mania or depression, you can try to make sure they get help ASAP.
Do things together. People who are depressed often pull away from others. So encourage your friend or loved one to get out and do things he or she enjoys. Ask him to join you for a walk or a dinner out. If he says no, let it go. Ask again a few days later.
Make a plan. Because bipolar disorder can often be an unpredictable illness, you should plan for bad times. Be clear. Agree with your loved one about what to do if their symptoms get worse. Have a plan for emergencies. If you both know what to do and what to expect of each other, you’ll feel more confident about the future.
Stick to a schedule. If you live with someone who has bipolar disorder, encourage them to stick to a schedule for sleep and other daily activities. Some research shows that it’s helpful to have a regular routine. The person will still need medicine and counseling, but look for everyday things, like exercise and a healthy diet, that supports their overall health.
Express your own concerns. Since your loved one’s behavior can have a huge effect on you, it’s OK to discuss. Don’t blame the other person or list all of his mistakes. Instead, focus on how his actions make you feel and how they affect you. Since this can be really hard to do, you might find it easiest to talk about it together with a therapist.
Take care of yourself. As intense as your loved one’s needs may be, you count, too. It’s important for you to stay healthy emotionally and physically.
Do things that you enjoy. Stay involved with other people you’re close to — social support and those relationships mean a lot. Think about seeing a therapist on your own or joining a support group for other people who are close to someone who has bipolar disorder.