How to support a friend 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.
How can I help?
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.
Learn more about bipolar
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.
“I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder at just 16 years old. I had been admitted to hospital after a year of depressive and anxious episodes, followed by a hypomanic episode.” – Read Eleanor’s story.
Talk about it
Some may think it best to ‘ignore’ mental health concerns and continue as if nothing’s happening. While you certainly shouldn’t change the way you treat your friend, letting them know you’ve read up on the condition and are open to talking about it can be a weight off your friend’s shoulders.
The happier they are to talk about it, the more you can learn how it affects them personally and what you can do to help.
Have an action plan for manic episodes
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.
Learn what your friend’s warning signs and triggers are
As we’ve already 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.
Know what to do if you fear for their safety
If you’re worried your friend may hurt themselves (whether they’re experiencing a depressive or manic episode) be sure to have the appropriate numbers to call.
Usually, this is their healthcare provider or their psychiatrist. The community psychiatric nurse is another ideal contact to have (they will be in your friend’s community mental health team).
Speaking to your friend’s family about this can help, it’s useful to have everyone on the same page.
Look after yourself
Finally, please remember that it’s important for you to look after yourself. You will be in a much better position to support someone else if you are well rested and healthy. Ensure you practise self-care and don’t be afraid to ask for help yourself – we’re all deserving of support.
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