Helping you get through tough times

Helping a friend with bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a disorder characterised by exaggerated mood swings.

People who experience bipolar disorder tend to experience extreme “ups and downs”. These mood swings are sometimes called episodes.

owls by nikkiSupporting a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder can be difficult, but understanding it can make it easier and less confusing for both of you.

Learn about bipolar disorder

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 to learn more about it.

Ask about it

Try asking your friend about their experience of bipolar. 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.

A doctor can help prescribe medication to manage their mood, or could refer them to a therapist or psychiatrist for face-to-face help.

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.

This could be a friend or family member or someone outside of the situation, either face-to-face, or by telephone or online.

This article was last reviewed on 28 July 2017

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