Helping a friend with bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depression, is a disorder characterised by exaggerated mood swings.
People with a bipolar diagnosis tend to experience extreme “ups and downs”. These mood swings are sometimes called episodes.
Learning about bipolar helps you understand what someone is going though. Your friend may feel supported knowing you decided to inform yourself about it.
When going through an “up” period, your friend might experience an elevated mood, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, a lack of inhibition and irritability among other things.
During a depressive episode or “down” period your friend may feel tired, worthless, a lack of appetite and a loss of interest in daily life.
Read bipolar disorder if you want to learn more.
Ask about it
Try asking your friend what their experience is like. This can help your understanding of what’s happening, and also what to do if your friend starts experiencing an episode.
Read more on communicating effectively if you feel this will help.
Support your friend
Let them know you’re there for them when they need you.
If they’re not currently receiving treatment from a doctor or therapist, try encouraging them to get help. There are many different management and treatment options.
Seeing a doctor for the first time can be scary. Maybe offer to go with them, if they are concerned about going alone.
If your friend is on medication, they may not be able to do certain things, like go out drinking. If this is the case, offer to do things they can do.
Also, be aware that sometimes the medication a person takes can have some unwanted side effects.
If this is happening to your friend, encourage them to tell their doctor, especially if they’re thinking of stopping or changing their dose of medication.
Know your limits
Dealing with the episodes can be hard for people close to someone suffering from bipolar disorder.
As they enter different mood episodes they might be difficult to handle. It can be taxing to watch them suffer.
During an episode your friend may say or do things that are hurtful. Chances are they don’t really mean them, so keeping a sense of perspective is important.
Remember, you can’t force anyone to do anything. Your friend might not be ready to seek help.
Remind them you are there for them, and will help when they are ready.
You can’t rescue them, or make them feel better on your own. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and make sure you have someone to talk to as well.