Caring for a Loved One with Bipolar: What Helps & What Hurts
This week Colorado Recovery Psychiatric Services would like to highlight this article featured in Bipolar Hope: Hope and Harmony for People with Bipolar Disorder. Many times we see families suffering along with the person who is having a mental health challenge because it is hard to know what to do.
By Stephen Propst, Bipolar Hope, http://bphope.com
When you love someone who is struggling with bipolar disorder, you might feel unsure about how best to support them. But here’s some advice on how to help.
Do you have a family member or friend who lives with bipolar? Do you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle? Who can blame you? It’s a difficult diagnosis that can be confusing and challenging.
Don’t give up! There is a method to confront what can seem like madness. You can learn to offer constructive support without sacrificing your sanity. It’s all in knowing what helps and what hurts.
First and foremost, remember that bipolar is a genuine medical condition that manifests itself with a host of ever-changing behavioral and psychological symptoms—from withdrawal to recklessness, lethargy to excessive energy, indecision to impulsiveness.
Understanding and responding to bipolar is no easy task, but acknowledging the biological and complex nature of the condition is an essential first step.
To help someone who has bipolar, it’s imperative that you:
- Stop blaming yourself OR your loved one for the diagnosis.
- Take care of yourself first so you’re better equipped to help your family member or friend.
- Realize there’s only so much you can manage physically, mentally, financially, and otherwise.
- Acknowledge that ultimately your loved one must champion his or her own recovery.
- Intervene in a true crisis, which is defined as someone being a threat to oneself or to others.
I’m fortunate that my family has always been there for me, even during the most difficult times. To their credit, they established necessary boundaries and refrained from letting my diagnosis consume them. They took a stand on what they could and could not handle, realized that ultimately I was the one who had to take charge of solving my problems, and recognized that my recovery could take considerable time.
Let me emphasize: When it comes to helping someone who is combating bipolar, it’s critical for families to realize that there is a limit to what they can do. You can be there for someone without putting yourself in jeopardy. Although it takes patience and persistence, achieving a healthy balance is worth the effort.
Now, there’s another critical component to consider: Much of what you may witness—from erratic behavior to poor decision making to (at times) complete chaos—is symptomatic of bipolar. It’s what they’re doing, not who they are. If you reduce someone you care about to a diagnosis, you hurt not only his or her chances of realizing recovery but also your own prospects for peace of mind. Be sure to separate the symptoms from the human being who is struggling beneath the chaos.
Also, remember to acknowledge any effort your loved one makes to deal with his or her situation. I once endured nine months of debilitating depression. Even getting out of bed was a big deal. Fortunately, my family recognized the seriousness of my struggle; they didn’t dismiss such an accomplishment as being trivial. This helped me more than you can imagine. Don’t hurt the one you love by failing to acknowledge all attempts to move forward. Small steps count, too!
Additionally, when you find your loved one in a fairly stable state of mind, sit down and establish a basic plan of action. At a minimum, decide on mutually acceptable expectations and reasonable boundaries, including agreed-upon consequences. Decide how a crisis will be handled. Being proactive helps; reacting haphazardly hurts.
If you find yourself second-guessing these ideas, that’s okay; these concepts can seem counterintuitive. Attending support groups can be very beneficial—getting constructive feedback and objective insight from others who’ve been there can help you embrace and appreciate the importance of these principles.
People often ask what they can say to someone who’s struggling. My answer? Three things:
- “I love you.”
- “I care.”
- “I’ll be there for you if and when you need me.”
I hope this helps!