How can I help a loved one with bipolar?

Catherine Reynolds, Mental Health America

If someone you love is living with bipolar disorder, it can be hard to know how to help. Here are some ways to help and things to keep in mind while supporting them.

Learn. There are many books, articles, and videos about bipolar disorder. Researching and listening to people who live with bipolar disorder discuss their experiences can be helpful in understanding an often misunderstood diagnosis. Having as much information as possible, whether about the disorder, treatments, or other options, can put you in a better position to support your loved one.

Listen.  When we’re going through a difficult time, most of us turn to people to share what we’re experiencing. Struggling with mania and depression is no different. It often has serious impacts on a person’s life, relationships, and ability to do the things they want or care about. An important part of supporting someone can often be just listening. You can let your loved one know you are there for them, whether they just want to vent or are looking for advice. When you’re listening, it’s important not to label what the person says or feels as “just a symptom” of the disorder. Whatever they are experiencing and describing is their experience, regardless of the diagnosis.

Ask. When in doubt you can always ask your loved one what you can do to help. Ask them how you can help them cope with a specific situation or trigger. Small tasks like doing the dishes, going to the grocery store, or picking up children can seem impossible to someone going through a difficult time. Offer to help with small tasks to help relieve some pressure.

Set boundaries if you must. As much as you want to be there for someone, if you start feeling down yourself, don’t be afraid to take a step back and evaluate what you can handle. If what your loved one is going through is becoming too much and starts influencing your own mental health, it’s okay to set boundaries.

Take care of yourself. It is easy to lose yourself in taking care of and supporting someone close to you. You may feel pressure to hold things together, especially if it is a member of your family. Your own mental health should stay a priority even if a loved one is going through a difficult time. After all, you can’t help someone unless you help yourself first.

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