How to help a loved one with bipolar disorder?
Published Feb 25, 2023 • By Candice Salomé
The role of family and friends, while sometimes complicated, is key to the success of a bipolar patient's treatment.
There are many ways for family members to get involved: gaining a better understanding of the disease and its treatments, ensuring that treatment is taken properly, or monitoring for relapses.
But what difficulties can family members of bipolar patients face? How best to help a loved one with bipolar disorder? How to help them take their treatment properly?
We tell you everything in our article!
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive psychosis) is characterized by mood swings that are disproportionate in duration and intensity.
Thus, joy becomes exaggerated euphoria, sadness turns into a deep depression.
The behavioral disorders that accompany these phases have a heavy impact on the patient's daily life and degrade his or her family and professional relationships.
The phases of excitement and depression that characterize bipolar disorder vary from patient to patient. It is an illness with serious consequences that can lead to suicide and requires long-term treatment.
What are some of the challenges that family members of patients with bipolar disorder may face?
Bipolar disorder greatly affects a person's mood, which oscillates between phases of euphoria, when they feel hyperactive, and phases of depression, sometimes with delusions or hallucinations, which are called psychoses.
Living with a bipolar loved one can be very complicated, especially if there is no treatment.
The repercussions of behavioral problems during manic phases and the feeling of powerlessness to relieve suffering during depressive phases weigh on family and friends.
In addition, patients with bipolar disorder have different attitudes towards the illness. Some refuse to admit that they are ill, others may feel rejected and misunderstood by their loved ones or become aggress when their treatments are discussed. Finally, guilt often accompanies patients when they realize the consequences of the illness on those around them.
Bipolar disorder thus represents a significant weight, both emotional and socio-economic, for the families and friends of patients.
How best to support a loved one with bipolar?
Learn about the illness
The best way to understand what your loved one is going through is to educate yourself and read about the experiences of those who have been diagnosed, but also to talk with loved ones of patients with bipolar disorder.
Patient associations can be a very good way to get involved in your loved one's illness:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness is a charity organization, supporting patients with bipolar disorder and their families. This organization offers support groups, and educational materials as well as one-on-one phone and email help services.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is an association spreading awareness and educating the public on mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder, through podcasts, webinars, and brochures. They help people living with bipolar disorder to connect with each other through peer support groups, as well as provide tools to find a doctor and track the progress. The alliance also offers online and in-person consultations.
- The Jed Foundation is a foundation determined to help young adults and prevent suicide by informing teens and young adults on sensitive topics like substance abuse, mental health problems and more. The charity works with schools and universities in the US, allowing them to organize seminars, inform on mental health topics and equip with tools to help yourself and each other.
Learn to spot the warning signs of relapse
It is necessary to learn to recognize the warning signs and triggers. For example, if you notice recurring behaviors before each manic episode, you can calmly discuss them with your loved one. For example, common signs preceding a manic phase may include: increased energy, loss of sleep, or unusual spending.
Triggers can be: an alteration in physical health, problems related to daily life, a death, sleep problems...
Getting involved in the treatment
The treatment of the bipolar disorder is based on three pillars:
- Psychotherapy to manage stress and strong emotions,
- And psychoeducation to allow the patient to become an actor of his treatment.
Family and friends can play a crucial role in the treatment and management of the bipolar disorder.
Some studies have shown that family intervention therapy is effective in reducing the relapse rate. This therapy aims to provide the family and close circle of friends with knowledge about bipolar disorder in order to facilitate changes in attitudes and, above all, to improve communication strategies with the bipolar patient.
As a result, improved family relationships reduce depressive episodes and better adherence to treatment reduces manic phases.
Often, the relatives of bipolar patients also need to be heard, supported, understood and trained by the caregivers.
Family discussions with the psychiatrist and the health care team that is taking care of the patient are important.
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