You have what it takes to help someone coping with bipolar disorder.
When someone you know is living with bipolar disorder, it’s hard to know how to offer help. You may fear saying or doing the wrong thing during their mood swings. You may even feel like you’re walking on eggshells around them. But there are many positive ways that you can offer support. In this post, we will discuss 11 kind things you can do to be a positive influence for someone who is living with bipolar disorder.
Before we jump in, let’s address one false idea. Some believe they can’t help someone with a mental illness because they are unqualified, limited in the time they can offer, or will make everything worse. It doesn’t have to cost you a penny to offer encouragement, and even a few minutes can make a big difference to help someone with bipolar. As you’ll see below, just being there and willing to listen is the most valuable help you can offer. Anyone can help, even those with limited health or energy.
Throughout this post, I will share some of my experiences of living with bipolar disorder. Let’s get started.
1. Listen without judgement
One way to offer support for a friend or family member coping with bipolar disorder is to simply be there for them. Listen to them when they need to talk and let them know you are always available to lend a listening ear. Additionally, try to be understanding and patient with them. Remember, they are dealing with a lot inside, so try to make the outside as welcoming as possible.
Bipolar disorder creates chaos in our heads that sometimes comes out as “crazy talk.” I frequently experience false beliefs and hear things differently than the way they are said. My closest friends understand it can be best to let me believe the wrong thing until I’m in the right headspace to correct it. They also know the worst things I talk about on the dark days are my illness coming out and not an accurate reflection of who I am.
Yes, you will at times get your feelings hurt, and you may have some ugly words thrown at you. Try to keep a tough skin until the real person you love returns, and they will return.Download Your Copy
2. Offer words of encouragement
When a family member is living with bipolar disorder, they may have good days and bad days. On their low days, it can be easy for them to feel like they’re not good enough or will never get better. That’s why it’s important to offer words of encouragement. Remind them they are strong and capable of improving. Let them know you are there for them, no matter what.
Here are some kind things you can say:
- “I’m here for you.”
- “You’re not alone in this.”
- “I believe in you.”
- “You’re going to get through this.”
These words may seem small, but they can make a big difference in someone’s day when they are fighting a depressive episode. I can’t tell you how many times a simple text message turned my day around. Just knowing someone loves you and is thinking about you can be a great source of strength.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re doing
Many avoid asking people with bipolar disorder how they are doing because they don’t want to upset them. However, it’s important to remember that most people living with bipolar disorder want to be treated like everyone else. So don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. Just be prepared to listen if they need to talk.
Let’s not pretend this isn’t challenging. For years, whenever anyone asked how I was doing, I only said, “I’m fine.” Sometimes the answer was because I didn’t think they deserved to know how I felt, but more often, it was because I didn’t know how I felt.
When you feel numb inside or when all your thoughts are swirling together, it’s difficult to make sense of anything. Even so, the kind thing is to still ask. My friends know now that when I say, “okay,” it might be all I can give them that day.
4. Remind them that they are not their illness
One thing you can say to someone with bipolar disorder is, “You are not your illness.” This is a powerful statement that can help them remember how they are much more than their diagnosis. You want them to know that you see them as a whole person, and not just as someone with a mental illness.
Bipolar is especially hard to cope with when it affects sleep patterns or throws you into a manic phase. In those moments, I can feel like mental illness is my only identity, and it’s hard to fight when I crash to devastating lows.
To know the people who love me see more than my illness gives me strength to see the same. Knowing that others see the possibilities in you also helps to encourage you to try new treatment options such as talk therapy or different mood stabilizers.
5. Encourage them to seek treatment and stick with it
If someone with bipolar disorder is not in professional treatment, encourage them to seek support from a mental health professional. Once they start treatment, remind them to stick with it—even when things get tough. Treatment takes time and effort, but it is worth it and the only way to recover from a mental health condition.
Treatment can vary greatly from person to person. I do best with medication, but know others with bipolar disorder who treat it well with natural supplements and exercise. The thing that matters is putting a treatment plan in place and then following it. Online therapy and support groups can also assist in sticking to a treatment plan.
6. Help them create a support system
Another way you can help a family member with bipolar disorder is by encouraging them to create a support system. This could involve introducing them to other people who have bipolar disorder or connecting them with resources like support groups or talk therapy. Having a strong support system is essential for managing bipolar disorder.
You know the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well, you can say the same about bipolar disorder. There are days you can’t take care of yourself or when your bipolar glasses distort the world so much that you’re unreasonable.
It’s essential on the worst days to have a team to keep you safe and to see to your needs when you can’t handle them yourself.
When coping with manic episodes, someone with a family history of bipolar disorder may turn to destructive behaviors. Part of creating a support system is knowing when someone requires medical treatment and making sure everyone involved has emergency contact information. It can also involve monitoring a friend or family member to make sure they are getting enough sleep and paying attention to their own limits.
7. Give them gentle reminders to take their medication
If someone with bipolar disorder is on medication, you can help them by giving them gentle reminders to take it. This can be as simple as sending them a text message or setting a reminder on their phone. Medication compliance is important for managing bipolar disorder, so your help in this area can be very beneficial.
The keyword here is gentle. Yelling at someone in the middle of a fight, “Have you taken your medication?” is not going to have positive results. Instead, remind them how much you love them and how you want them to live their own life and have it be as full a life as possible. For most of us with bipolar disorder, medication is how we best manage mood changes.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, and it’s one of a few illnesses where the right medication can stop working all at once. When you know depression and other extreme changes can reoccur at any time, it can feel overwhelming, but good friends can make the journey easier to handle.
8. Accompany them to doctor appointments or therapy sessions
If a loved one with bipolar disorder is struggling to make it to their doctor appointments or therapy sessions, offer to accompany them. This can be a big help, and it will show them you care about their well-being.
Another positive of going to the doctor with them is to hear the information they may miss. Bipolar is a serious mental illness, and there are days when thinking feels impossible. Several times, I’ve returned from a doctor’s office and had no memory of what they told me. A few times, I didn’t fill prescriptions that could have helped me because I forgot the doctor told me to get them.
By going to the doctor with them, you can be a second set of ears and keep up with the vital facts discussed during the visit. You can provide those reminders later. It can also be beneficial to go to a support group with someone trying to get control of their own mental health.
9. Provide practical help, like running errands or cooking meals
You can also help family members with their bipolar disorder treatment by doing things around the house or running errands for them. This can take some of the burden off of their shoulders, and it will give them more time to focus on taking care of themselves.
I like a clean house, but there are days I can’t even clean myself. Washing dishes, vacuuming the floor, or mowing the lawn are out of the question. When a friend volunteers to help me finish one of these necessary tasks, it’s like someone lifts a mountain off my back.
Driving a car and going out in public are also challenging, especially when bipolar symptoms are wreaking havoc on my life. When a friend offers to run to the store or pick up dinner, it helps me maintain a healthy diet and concentrate on managing my mood episode without the stress of getting in the car.
10. Let them know you are always available to talk, no matter what time of day or night
Emotional support is essential, and an excellent way to provide it is to let them know you are always available to talk—no matter what time of day or night it is. This can be a big comfort to someone with bipolar disorder, who may feel like they are all alone in their struggle. Just knowing that you are there for them can make a world of difference.
A word of caution here: don’t tell someone you’re available any time of the day or night unless you mean it. Those of us fighting mental illnesses rarely sleep on regular schedules, and it’s common for our worst episodes and suicidal thoughts to show up in the middle of the night. If you tell us we can call at 2:00 in the morning, then don’t be mad when we call. If we’re calling, we need help, and it probably can’t wait until the sun comes up.
11. And finally, simply show how much you care
One of the best things you can do for someone with bipolar disorder is simply to show that you care. This could involve sending them a card, giving them a hug, or just letting them know you are thinking of them. Small gestures like this can mean the world to someone who is struggling. Even a simple text message can improve someone’s day.
When I receive a card in the mail or a friend calls to say they’re thinking of me, it makes my whole day better. Bipolar disorder can often make us feel unworthy of love, so to know you care silences our internal negativity, at least for a while.
It’s also helpful to educate yourself about bipolar disorder. This will not only help you better understand what your friend or loved one is going through, but it will also help you to be a more supportive ally.
If you want to learn more about bipolar disorder, you’ll find over 300 posts about bipolar life on the Speaking Bipolar blog. You can also check out the following resources:
- The Bipolar Disorder Guide from the National Institute of Mental Health
- Bipolar Disorder: An Information Guide from the Canadian Mental Health Association
- Bipolar Disorder from the Mayo Clinic
By educating yourself about bipolar disorder and offering support, you can make a massive difference in someone’s life. That’s not an exaggeration.
I have been battling bipolar disorder since 1995. Some days feel impossible, but most I can tackle with confidence. Knowing I have friends I can turn to during a bipolar episode has been a huge stabilizing force for helping me cope with depressive episodes and psychotic symptoms. In fact, the people who love me are the main reason I’m still here in the fight. You can provide similar support for another person’s life, and all it takes is time and love.
Bipolar disorders can be one of the toughest mental health conditions to live with, but thankfully, there are many ways you can offer help and encouragement. The positive things listed above are just a few examples of the ways you can show someone how much you care. By educating yourself about proper treatment for bipolar disorder and offering support, you can make a tremendous difference in someone’s life and their own wellbeing.
Until next time, keep fighting.