The team at Colorado Recovery loves this article about how to be aware of when someone with Bipolar Disorder needs help. Published through Bipolar Hope, bphope.com.
It’s hard to know when you should step in to get someone with bipolar disorder the help they need. Most people want to respect the rights of others and not interfere or seem nosy and bossy.
I’m here to tell you that as a person with bipolar disorder, I NEED the people around me to see the signs that I’m sick.
1. Current behaviors are not in line with past behaviors.
For example: A person who has been empathetic throughout life suddenly becomes selfish and callous and says, “I never loved you! You’re finally seeing the real me!”
2. The person stops paying attention to what has always been important.
This can include being with their children. People who once cared about helping animals will forget to feed them or might kick them out of the way. A person who loves work will simply stop going and say, “It doesn’t matter if I get fired! I can find a job anywhere!”
3. The person doesn’t listen.
This will be in comparison to how the person usually behaves. If you see a distinct change in how much a person talks, how much they argue or how they lose the ability to listen, this is always a worrisome sign.
4. You are the problem.
When you try to bring up your worries, the person turns on you and says, “Oh, I’m the one with the problem! I’m the issue here? What about you and all that is wrong in YOUR life?”
5. They leave.
This is incredibly distressing and shocking for loved ones. Before I was diagnosed, I used to get manic and get on a plane within a few days and be GONE. Then I would wake up in a new country and wonder, ‘What the heck have I just done? What’s wrong with me?”
6. Anger increases.
This starts with irritation over the little things. “Why did you put my bag there!” and can turn into physical violence if the episode goes too far.
7. Facial and body changes.
This includes eyes, how a person walks, wears makeup and uses clothes to express a mood. For example, someone conservative who suddenly gets a mohawk or wears a very short skirt.
If you care about someone with bipolar disorder, create your own symptom lists around mania, depression, anxiety, psychosis, focus problems, irritation, and anger and start observing the patterns in your loved ones. I recently wrote a blog for the Bp Kids section that can help you with this process. My book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder explains how people can manage bipolar disorder and how a loved one can help. My book Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder is specifically for partners.
Trust your intuition. When you love someone with bipolar disorder, you matter too! Your feelings and reactions to a person’s behaviors are your own. It’s not trying to change someone if you ask for stability around your own life. It is normal for you to expect a person with bipolar disorder to get help if their behavior affects YOUR life.
Teamwork helps those of us with bipolar disorder manage symptoms. We need loved ones to help us reach our goals and find happiness in life.
Bonus sign #8: We get in bed.
Seeing a loved one stay in bed is always a sign something is not right. My family knows that ‘Julie in bed, binge-watching videos’ is not a good sign and they have my permission to help me deal with my depression.
Oct 31, 2020, 15:15 EDT
One night in July of 2009, I was notified that my 19-year-old son had been put in jail for threatening to kill his father, with whom he lived.
He had a shotgun with the bullet inserted incorrectly and had beaten his father while yelling things like, “Don’t you know what you are doing to me?” and “Quit telling the world everything that I am thinking!”
During the incident, my son had also used the phone to beat his dad. Through a source we believe to be larger than us, he accidentally dialed a relative who reacted quickly to the ranting and called 911.
Once the sheriff arrived, he was able to calm my son down.
He proceeded to tell the sheriff that he was tired of all of his thoughts being put on late-night TV shows for the world to hear. He just wanted his dad and the voices to shut up.
The sheriff had been exposed to many people acting like this and he thought he knew what might be going on with his mental health.
He said my son may have schizophrenia.
I shared with him what I believed at the time — that he was just a kid that had no discipline while living with his father. I also shared that I believed he was using drugs.
I couldn’t have known what I didn’t know then, but the sheriff was right.
To help other parents going through what we did, I’m sharing my story, some advice for fellow parents of children with mental illnesses, and a few tips for people who’d like to support families dealing with a schizophrenia diagnosis.
First, it’s important to know what schizophrenia is. According to NAMI (The National Alliance On Mental Illness), schizophrenia is “a complex, long-term medical illness … that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others.”
While the exact rate at which schizophrenia occurs is hard to measure, it’s estimated that the prevalence ranges from 0.25% to 0.64% of U.S. adults.
I went into complete denial thinking that my son might have such a serious mental illness.
However, while in jail for the weekend, he became belligerent and having something similar to a rageful breakdown.
They transferred him to a hospital in Omaha, the nearest big city to where he was in jail. The hospital was 1200 miles from where I was living at the time.
After finally speaking with the doctor’s nurse, they informed me that there would be a conference call on Tuesday for me to speak with the doctor and my son so that we could determine the next steps.
Because I was in denial, I went on with my normal work and flew to Chicago that Monday as part of my normal work schedule. Our meetings there were being held at the Chicago Tribune Building. Needing a room with privacy and speakerphone, they took me to one of the top floors to make my call with my son and the doctor.
The table was twenty-foot-long and was lined with multiple high back chairs, with 3 speakerphones in the middle of the tables. I had always dreamed of being in a conference room like that, but not for something like this.
I dialed into the conference.
The doctor came on, and I will never forget the sound of his voice or his accent. He introduced himself and then proceeded to let everyone who was in the room with him introduce themselves.
It felt like one hundred people must have been there, as it seemed to take an hour to get through all the introductions. My ex-husband and son were there also.
He proceeded to ask my son a few questions. “Tell us what happened the other day,” was the first.
“I was just tired of my mom telling me that I am a terrible person. Every time I turn on the TV, there they are saying exactly what I had just been thinking! She needs to just leave me alone.”
My eyes filled with tears and my heart sunk into my stomach.
“My mom keeps telling me I need to kill myself,” he said.
I was in complete shock. Of course, I had never told him that — and I never would. That’s when I realized how truly sick my son was. My son has schizophrenia. All I could do was listen and stare at the speakerphone.
I had thought he was a kid that got mixed up with the wrong crowd and had little supervision. I thought he just needed some therapy.
That is where I was just wrong.
Hearing that your son, or anyone in your family, has a mental illness like schizophrenia is shocking and hard to accept. I wanted to just take control, get him to the right doctors, and hope it would go away.
For many parents who learn their child has schizophrenia, it feels like the loss of their child.
I want to be very clear I am not downplaying the death of a child, which cannot be compared to anything else as far as devastation and grief. But there is a very unique form of grieving that happens when we learn something like this.
When an adult child gets diagnosed with a mental illness in such a dramatic fashion, it feels like we lose our child and gain a new one in a matter of days. It feels like we’ve lost the white picket fence dreams, the college hopes, the dream of them having a family and children and living happily ever after.
While that may not always be the reality, it is how it feels to many parents like myself.
What makes it worse is that no one is there to support us.
No one brings a dish over and offers condolences. No one offers to have a service dedicated to them. We must grieve, often, alone. Then, very quickly we must accept that we have a new child that we do not know. We do not know what they need, what they like, or what their life is going to be like.
We have to learn how to relate to and love this new person.
Over the past ten years of offering support, I have taken calls through NAMI and those referred through hospitals, usually right after a parent has been given the news as I received.
It is almost always the same call, just with different strengths of emotion. They are filled with shame, guilt, and think in extremes, using words like “always” and “never”.
“My son is never going to have a normal life,” they may say. Or, “My daughter is going to take her own life if I am not with her.”
They may have learned that most homes for the mentally ill are not in the best areas of their city or town and “would never dream of letting them go there.” It is very frightening for them.
I always do my best to reassure them that their child can have a life. It is going to be different than what they thought, but they can. As parents, they will need to let go of the control they thought they had and learn everything they can.
Informing them that moving into a half-way home or home those with mental illness may be the best thing for them, and it may not be forever. I offer ongoing counseling, but only 1 out of 100 ever call again.
My prayers are that they accept their new role and lean into the systems that are in place.
Many parents and relatives never learn how to deal with their child’s mental illness or learn how they can help because it is so hard. But it is my hope that people will start to understand the reality of having a child with mental illness so that both they and their child can have the best relationship — and life — they can.
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.
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!
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