How To Support A Bipolar Family Member

How To Support A Bipolar Family MemberIf a family membershas bipolar disorder, then you’re probably familiar with how challenging this can be not only for them but everyone. Every time your family member shows erratic moods and extreme shifts of behavior, it can disrupt the whole family. Furthermore, it could also strain family relationships and even the other people who are just trying to help.

Thankfully, it doesn’t always need to be this way. As long as every family member genuinely understands this condition and knows how to show support to the bipolar person, it’ll ease the burden for everyone.  

As you might know, I am a multi bestselling wellness author with about 2 million books sold.

Plus I founded a research based online course with effective relaxation techniques called The Anxiety Cure.

I love sharing insights and strategies to help people to be happier, calmer, more successful.

With this in mind I put together this quick guide on how to support a bipolar family member.

What Is Bipolar Disorder? 

To begin with, bipolar disorder (BD), previously called manic depression, is a mental health disorder that mainly affects the person’s mood, energy, and behavior and causes them to experience unpredictable mood changes or bursts of energy. This mental condition can affect the person’s ability to function normally and perform mundane, daily tasks. The symptoms of BD are often termed as ‘mood episodes.’

When a bipolar person tends to experience one of these episodes, they can quickly change from extreme happiness and excitement (mania) to deep sadness (depression). In some cases, the person may experience both mania and depression simultaneously. 

BD has three main types described below.

They may have similar symptoms, but they differ in treatment options and severity. Listed below are the types ordered from the most severe to the least one: 

1. Bipolar I Disorder 

This is the most severe type of BD in which the person’s mood episodes can last for a week or more, eventually affecting their ability to function normally on their daily tasks. Delusions and hallucinations may also happen during severe episodes. In this condition, the person must seek professional help immediately from https://jacksonhousecares.com/program/our-treatment/bipolar-disorder/ or other mental health services within your area. The healthcare professional or therapist will be able to provide a personalized treatment program for your loved one. 

2. Bipolar II Disorder 

In this second type of bipolar disorder, mood episodes of hypomania or depression usually last for four days. Sometimes, the changes in their mood and behavior are not too noticeable, so this may not always affect their daily lives.  

3. Cyclothymic Disorder (cyclothymia) 

The third one may not be as intense as the first two types mentioned. However, their mood episodes may last for two years or longer, showing on and off symptoms. This may not also affect their daily life, but there will be days when the person shall experience distress when the symptoms are showing off.  

What Are The Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder? 

Each person with BD tends to have a different episode pattern, regardless of the type of BD they’re diagnosed with. Some may experience more mania (the highs) symptoms than depression (the lows)., while others may have more depressive periods than mania. The duration of their episodes can also vary as some may experience it for weeks, months, and even years.   

Here are a few symptoms of mania (the highs):  

  • Extreme happiness and excitement  
  • Restlessness  
  • Boost of energy and no time for sleep  
  • Unusual high sex drive  
  • Creating impulsive decisions out of nowhere  
  • Making unrealistic plans  
  • Alcohol or drug abuse  
  • Bigger self-confidence  
  • Poor concentration  

Below are symptoms of depression (the lows):  

  • Extreme feelings of sadness and worthlessness  
  • Lack of sex drive  
  • Irritability  
  • Needing more sleep or insomnia  
  • Uncontrollable crying  
  • Forgetfulness  
  • Loss of energy  
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts  
  • Appetite changes  

When a loved one has bipolar disorder, you can expect that most, if not all, of these symptoms will be present. But even if dealing with them can be difficult most of the time, remember not to use their moods or behaviors against them or take them personally. The enemy here is their ‘mental health disease’ and not your loved one. 

What Are The Possible Causes Of BD? 

Even today, researchers are still studying the primary cause of bipolar disorder. However, there are possible causes that the experts have proposed that may contribute to the person’s BD.

These possible causes may include: 

  • Genetics (or if your family has a history of BD) 
  • Irregularities in the brain 
  • Environmental factors (e.g., traumatic experience, extreme stress, other illnesses) 

Most often, bipolar disorder develops from late adolescence or adulthood, and in rare cases, during childhood. The person’s risk of having bipolar disorder heightens when they’re going through extreme stress, trauma, or experiencing substance abuse.  

How To Support A Bipolar Family Member? 

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder will never be easy for your loved one. It’s a lifetime condition with no cure, and the symptoms can occur again anytime during their treatment. That’s why they can’t help but feel anxious during their symptom-free days as they worry about when will their next mood episodes attack again. Thus, they’ll need all your support and understanding to help them get through and overcome this condition, especially during their episodes.   

Here are some steps on how you can show your support to your bipolar family member: 

1. Educate Yourself 

The first step towards supporting your bipolar family member is to educate yourself. When you know everything about their condition, the easier it’ll be for you to help and understand them. During their mood episodes, you can react and take action appropriately, instead of being moody yourself, which may worsen their symptoms.  

2. Openly Listen To Your Loved One 

You don’t always have to give the right answers or advice to show your support. In fact, being an active listener is enough to make them feel less lonely, especially with all the challenges and symptoms they’re going through. So, whenever they talk about their feelings or struggles, always pay attention to what they’re saying.  

If they talk about things you can’t relate to or agree with, just listen and don’t try to correct or argue with them. Otherwise, they might regret that they’ve shared something with you and may never open up to you again. If you’re having difficulty understanding what they’re going through, avoid getting angry or, worse, blaming them for their feelings. Furthermore, avoid talking about topics that may frustrate, irritate, or worsen their episodes. If they’re switching moods or behaviors during your conversation, try your best to stay calm and react appropriately. 

Overall, don’t take their behavior, mood, or anything they say personally. Even if their behavior or attitudes are frustrating, remember that it’s not them, but it’s their illness.  

3. Offer Reassurance  

People with bipolar disorder are often misunderstood, so they can’t help but sometimes feel like the world is against them or that they’re worthless. This kind of mindset will only worsen their depressive episodes. To help them lessen those feelings, make it a point to reassure them that you’ll always care for them no matter what. Remind them about their positive qualities whenever they start doubting themselves during their episodes.

Here are some helpful things you can tell them to help them feel empowered: 

  • You’re not alone on this. 
  • You’re important to us. 
  • I’m here for you. 
  • Your feelings are valid. 
  • I’m proud of you. 

Avoid telling them things that will embarrass, shame, or dismiss their feelings, such as ‘You’ll get over it’, or ‘You’re only overreacting.’ These will only invalidate their emotions and worsen their feelings of worthlessness. Show your support by being more sensitive about their feelings and everything they’re going through. 

4. Be Active And Support Them In Their Treatment 

Bipolar disorder has no cure, but treatment options are available. These can help manage their mood episodes and improve their overall quality of life. Although you don’t necessarily have to be with them during their appointments, you can show your support by volunteering to come with them and wait until their therapy session or appointment is over.  

Keep in mind that some people may find these counseling sessions scary, considering they’ll need to open up about their condition to someone they ‘don’t know.’ Having a family member come with them during these therapies and appointments will make the treatment less scary and less stressful for them. Remember, you can be as active in taking part in their treatments, but it’s not your responsibility to ‘fix’ them. 

5. Create A Plan 

As mentioned, bipolar disorder is an unpredictable condition. You’ll never know when your family member will have their mania or depressive episodes. Sometimes, it can happen at the most unexpected time and place. Being their family, you need to create a plan in case their severe episodes happen again so you’ll know what to do if they suddenly feel suicidal during their ‘lows’ or become reckless during their ‘highs.’ 

For example, during the days they are well, they may ask you to be the one to keep their cash, cards, and bank books to prevent them from going on a sudden shopping spree during their manic episodes. Then, once their high episode begins, be prepared to calmly reject them whenever they harshly demand or even fight with you to give back their cash or card.  

Meanwhile, during their depressive episodes, plan how you can help reduce their mood swings, such as delegating them household chores to distract them from their depressive thoughts. If they’re starting to have those suicidal thoughts again, make sure you hide any sharp object in the house to prevent them from having self-harming ideas. It’s also ideal to write down your plan so you and your bipolar loved one can refer to them when needed. 

6. Don’t Try To Control Everything 

Every episode will be different each time. There are episodes wherein your created plans have worked in calming them down or preventing them from doing anything reckless or harmful to themselves. However, there will be episodes where it’s too intense for both of you. It might be harder for you to help them. Thus, don’t pressure yourself into trying to put everything under control.  

You need to know if it’s time to step back and let a doctor or a therapist intervene in the situation. This is important, especially if they begin to threaten or harm other family members. Even though bipolar people can make decisions, you also need to remember that some behaviors or moods are not under their control due to their condition.  

Most importantly, avoid monitoring or checking on them 24/7, even during the no-episode days. Doing this will only make them feel less normal and trigger their stress levels. So, step back, don’t push it, and understand that you’re both trying your best to overcome this challenging condition. 

7. Extend Your Understanding 

When your family member is having one of their episodes again, it can be stressful for everyone in the family. But while you’re having a hard time dealing with their episodes, remember that they’re also struggling to understand what they’re feeling or experiencing. So, if they start acting out with hostility or anything hurtful to you and everyone else, try to extend your understanding and be more forgiving. 

Understand that whatever they’re doing or saying, they don’t mean it. Don’t judge or criticize them for being that way, and instead, focus on explaining how those things have made you feel and how you genuinely understand and forgive them.  

8. Look After Your Own Wellbeing 

Having a bipolar family member is challenging, and you may want to do anything to ensure they’re safe and well. But while doing so, make sure you don’t forget about your wellbeing, too. Sometimes, you get so wrapped up in dealing with their episodes that you forget about your needs. It’s hard to look after someone when you’re not physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy yourself. 

So, while supporting your family member, ensure you’re also eating healthily, sleeping well, and exercising regularly. Allow yourself to get out there and live your own life. Socialize, attend events, destress, and live well. Don’t let your bipolar family member feel that they’re a burden by neglecting yourself and making your life look miserable because of them. 

9. Maintain A Healthy Lifestyle 

Leading a healthy lifestyle will encourage your loved one to do the same and be motivated to improve their life. Thus, be a good example in the house by preparing healthy foods, exercising daily, following a sleep schedule, and incorporating relaxation techniques in your daily routine. The healthier their lifestyle is, the less likely their mood episodes will show off regularly.  

10. Stay Positive 

BD is a lifelong condition that means their episodes and symptoms will be on and off throughout their lives. The best thing to do to support them is to stay positive no matter what. Keeping an optimistic attitude around your bipolar loved one will motivate them to live their life to the fullest despite their condition. Most importantly, it’s a good reminder that having bipolar disorder is not the end of their lives. 

Take-Home Message 

Having a bipolar family member won’t be easy. There will be days where you’ll feel worried or even guilty for what they’re going through. However, bear in mind that bipolar disorder is a brain-based disease. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with how you raised or treated them in the past.

So, together with the rest of the family, fight against this brain disease. always remember to embrace your bipolar loved one during the process. Your endless care and support will make a huge difference in their life.

Stay calm during challenging times

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