Bipolar Disorder is not only devastating and life-altering to the patients it affects, it also contributes significant consequences on the supporters, meaning family, friends, and spouses, of the patients. When faced with a loved one’s Bipolar Disorder, supporters often find they don’t have the necessary answers to help the patient, don’t have the resources for the patient or themselves, and don’t really know much about the illness. In most cases, supporters don’t know what Bipolar Disorder is when their loved one is diagnosed with the illness; thus, have no idea how to react to the patient’s disclosure of his or her diagnosis.

Fortunately, there are many ways supporters can cope with their loved one’s Bipolar Disorder and truly help their loved one fight their illness, while finding the means to help themselves.

The first and foremost thing a Bipolar Disorder supporter must do when a patient discloses his or her illness is to believe that the patient is truly ill. Many times, family, friends, and spouses do not believe that the patient is sick or is in denial that their loved one could have a mental disorder. They could wind up ignoring the illness, which can be ultimately detrimental to both the patient and themselves. To avoid this, supporters must believe the patient and take action to help them and themselves.

When a supporter decides to take action, he or she must immediately resolve to fully educate themselves about Bipolar Disorder. Ways the supporter can do this is through research on the Internet, reading a vast amount of books that are available on the subject, and even going with the patient to his or her psychiatrist so the doctor can explain the illness. Websites that supporters can go to find information on Bipolar Disorder are:

Supporters can also just type 'Bipolar Disorder' in any Internet search engine and receive a plethora of information on the subject.

Books that supporters can read to find information on Bipolar Disorder include anything from memoirs written by people with Bipolar Disorder to non-fiction written by psychiatrists and psychologist who treat the illness. Some of these books are:

Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder by Julie A. Fast, John D. PrestonAn Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield JamisonTouched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield JamisonBrilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness by Patty DukeManic-Depressive Illness by Frederick K. Goodwin, M.D.

Being educated on Bipolar Disorder will allow the supporter to understand his or her loved one, know what to expect and not to expect in terms of behavior and functionality in the patient, have the knowledge of how to recognize when the patient needs either a change or adjustment in medication, and have the knowledge of when to suggest that the patient needs to see the doctor. Being well-informed about the illness will also help the supporter know the best ways to take care of his or her loved one.

Once educated, supporters of Bipolar Disorder patients must strictly enforce that they have an illness. Often, Bipolar Disorder patients will think they are well after the medication has been working for some time and will want to go off their medication. It is imperative that supporters educate their loved ones about their illness and remain firm that they must continue taking their medication for the rest of their lives.

Bipolar Disorder patient supporters can also help by providing a good, stress-free environment for their loved ones. Love, good food, laughter, and encouragement are all some ways a supporter can create this type of environment for the patient.

Finally, supporters have to know their loved ones well. This means not just knowing their illness well, but also knowing the person that they are. Bipolar Disorder is not all that is to the patient. The patient is a person with his or her own personality. The supporter has to learn when to recognize when the loved one is unable to do something because he or she is sick and when he or she is not doing something simply because they don’t want to. The supporter has to try not to let the loved one get away with things like manipulation, lying, and irresponsible behavior. In doing this, the supporter is allowing the Bipolar Disorder patient to take control of their lives and learn how to handle their own illness.

With Bipolar Disorder, supporters of loved ones with the illness are highly affected by the patients’ behaviors and moods, their financial and work difficulties, and their overall excessive needs. It is important that supporters understand that it is not the Bipolar Disorder patients’ fault, that most of the time they are being controlled by their illness or side effects of their medications, and that they truly are sick. But, all of this can take a strong emotional, mental, and physical toll on supporters. Supporters need to take care of their own health, go to their own jobs, pay their own bills, fill their own needs, and try to maintain happy and productive lives.

Most supporters of patients with Bipolar Disorder forget all of this and themselves and only focus on their loved one. This is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Without maintaining their own lives properly, Bipolar Disorder supporters will eventually not be able to function themselves and, therefore, will not be able to support the patient. It is critical that supporters, first and foremost, take care of themselves. They need to take time out for themselves and take care of their own needs.

This can be done in a number of ways. The best way a supporter can take care of themselves when dealing with a Bipolar Disorder loved one is to talk to other people who take care of Bipolar Disorder patients. Talking and relating to people like themselves will open their eyes to the mental health world and they will get the sense and knowledge that they are not alone, that their feelings are felt by people in the same situation as them, and that they too need help in dealing with this difficult and devastating illness.

If a supporter doesn’t know anyone in the same situation as themselves, there are many support groups available for supporters of Bipolar Disorder. Supporters can check the Internet for online support groups by typing 'support groups for bipolar disorder,' look in local newspapers, check the front of the white pages for community hotlines, or even ask the patients’ doctors for suggestions and resources.

Another way supporters can find help for themselves is to go to their own therapist. Going to their own therapist will allow supporters to work out any issues that may arise during the care of their loved one. Many times, supporters will feel depressed, resentful, angry, hurt, or even guilty about their loved ones’ illness. These issues need to be worked out with a qualified therapist. If they aren’t, the feelings will fester and deepen and the health of the supporter is at risk.

Finally, many supporters find themselves turning toward their religions and spirituality for guidance and assistance in coping with their Bipolar Disorder loved one. Many find prayer to be a source for alleviating stress, building strength, and finding answers to questions they may have. Seeking advice and comfort from a clergyman or religious/spiritual group can help supporters find the aid they need to keep living their lives happily and productively.

Facing Bipolar Disorder in a loved one is not easy for supporters, but with accurate information and knowledge of the illness, hard work and determination, resourcefulness, resolve, their own personal support system, and a little bit of love, supporters can find the correct ways to truly help their loved ones while helping themselves.