Bipolar – sometimes known as manic depression – is a severe mental health condition characterised by significant mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows.
Everyone’s experience with bipolar is different. Some people have more depressive episodes; others have more manic ones.
The duration of an episode of mania or depression also differs from one person to the next, as does the severity of an episode.
The support from family and friends is extremely important for people living with bipolar, however, it can be challenging to know how best to help your loved one through the ups and downs.
To help, Simon Kitchen, CEO of Bipolar UK, the national healthcare charity which provides a range of services to empower people living with bipolar to take control of their lives, has outlined five ways that you can support a loved one if they are facing a manic or depressive episode.
“During a manic episode, your friend or family member might do things that feel embarrassing, strange or upsetting to you. Try not to judge them or make general statements or accusations about their actions. Speak calmly and let them know you’re there to help and that you love them.
“Telling your loved one to “stop acting crazy” or to “cheer up” will not help, as neither depression nor mania can be “cured” through willpower or reasoning.”
Give Them Space
“Your support can be very helpful; however it is important to know when to give your loved one space when needed – support, do not push.
“It’s not uncommon for people who are living with bipolar to experience overly controlling and critical behaviour from individuals in their life, especially from those that really care about them.
“Finding a balance between being supportive, but not overbearing is the right way forward. This will require ongoing mutual acceptance and understanding of each other’s feelings – communication is key.”
Make A Plan
“When your loved one is feeling well, it is a great idea to sit down together and try talking about how you can support them during their manic episodes. Speak to them about the warning signs and triggers. That way, if you notice specific behaviours or traits that relate to their manic episode, you can kindly let them know.
“Common early warning signs of mania may include abnormally upbeat behaviour, an exaggerated sense of wellbeing and self-confidence, decreased need for sleep, and unusual talkativeness.
“Once the period of mania has passed, episodes of depression may see you having to pick up the jobs for a loved one who doesn’t have the energy to complete responsibilities at home or work. Show patience and accept their limits. Make a plan ahead of time and discuss what tasks they may need help with during the depressive episode.
“Depression warning signs include loss of interest in activities, change in appetite, fatigue or sleeping more.”
“Read up on the facts. The best way to understand how your loved one might be feeling is to find out more about bipolar disorder. The more you understand about the illness, the more you will be able to empathise and offer useful support if your loved one is experiencing a manic episode.
!Talking to people who have bipolar disorder, and their families and friends can also be very useful in helping to understand the condition. Bipolar UK has a wealth of information and advice from people affected by bipolar and runs support groups which are open to family and friends of people with bipolar as well as people with the condition themselves.
“In these times of social isolation, Bipolar UK also has an online e-community, which provides a supportive forum for everyone affected by bipolar. This offers a safe space to discuss any challenges you might be facing and share your experiences with others.”
Seek Professional Help
“If you become worried about how your loved one is acting or concerned for their health, there is no shame in seeking professional help. Contact their healthcare provider and communicate your concerns – you can even ask for a home visit.
“For more information and advice on supporting a loved one with bipolar disorder, visit www.bipolaruk.org.