Bipolar Illness: A Guide for Family and Friends

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For those family members and friends who enjoy a close relationship with an individual who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it can be difficult to know what to do in response to the patient’s episodes of depression and mania. Distressing, exhausting, stressful – this typifies life with or around a person who swings back and forth between extreme highs and lows.

Dealing With Depression

There is certainly no one who has never had experience with depression, in either themselves or in others. The difference with someone suffering from bipolar disorder is that they are quite resistant to help and tend to see those who interfere as a negative influence. This does not mean they do not need your support, however. The best way to deal with someone who is withdrawn and irritable is with a healthy dose of patience and understanding. Refrain from giving advice but do gently push the person suffering from bipolar disorder to take care of themselves with the proper exercise, diet, and uninterrupted sleep.

Dealing With Mania

Mania can be almost more difficult to deal with than depression. Your family member or friend will exhibit signs of happiness, excessive energy, and thoughts of grandiose plans. They may act like the life of the party and gain a great deal of excitement from being around others and having the opportunity to talk excessively. Supporters would be well advised to steer the bipolar patient away from such situations, which only exacerbate their symptoms. Ensure that they are able to properly look after themselves and are eating and sleeping regularly.

General Advice

The best offense is a good defence, or so some say. Family and friends need to educate themselves about the symptoms and treatments affecting those with bipolar disorder. Accompanying the patient to doctor’s or psychiatrist’s appointments, if at all possible, is highly recommended.

Ensure that as a caregiver, you are looking after your own needs as well as those of the person suffering from this illness. Make time to do the things important to you. Try to schedule other supporters to help with care. Most of all, get enough sleep so that you are not overly fatigued and fall prey to depression yourself.

Any time that a person suffering from bipolar disorder becomes abusive, suicidal, or verbally explosive it is cause for concern. For patients, these feelings and behaviour may seem normal. For caregivers, signs of potential danger should facilitate outside help. Such signs include serious neglect (refusing to eat or drink), overly risky behaviour, and talk of harming, or even killing, themselves or someone else. In this case, seek emergency medical help immediately. The patient may need to be admitted to a hospital where they can be properly monitored.

People with bipolar disorder can live fully functional lives, particularly with effective treatment methods. Support from family and friends is a vital part of any successful treatment regimen.

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