Let me ask you a question: How did you react when you first found out your loved one was bipolar?

Some people think their loved one is just making the disorder up or is bringing the problem on themselves. In other families, people, especially parents and spouses, blame themselves because they think they could have somehow prevented it from happening. Many other families worry about what the disorder will do to their loved one, to them, and to their whole family. In my family, we chose to ignore the problem and pretend that nothing was wrong.

There's nothing wrong with any of these reactions. They're all perfectly normal. After all, we can't help how we feel when life throws us a major curve ball like bipolar disorder. We just have to work through those initial feelings so that they don't prevent us from providing the support our loved ones need.

Accepting the role of caregiver for someone with bipolar disorder can be very stressful at first. For one, you may not really understand your loved one's condition so you may not know how to help them get through an episode. Trust me, I know how helpless you can feel because I've been in that same situation with my mom. I've learned a lot from the mistakes that my family made and from the research I've done on my own and that's what has helped me to better help my mom.

One of the first things you should do is prepare to meet resistance when you suggest your loved one seek the help of medical professionals. You need to realize that most people with bipolar disorder are fully functioning members of society when they aren't in an episode, so they may be offended if you even suggest that need mental health treatment. They may assume you are calling them 'crazy,' or they may be afraid of what will happen to them if they do go to the doctor. Many of the people I've talked to admitted they were afraid to go to the doctor because they didn't want to be hospitalized for the rest of their lives. Thankfully, hospitalization, when it is necessary, is only temporary and is designed to help them recover safely.

On the other hand, your loved one may believe that seeking treatment for a mental illness shows they are weak and unable to handle the problem on their own. Generally, this idea is a result of the common misconception that mentally ill patients bring on their own problems and could, therefore, overcome them if they had enough will power. That's simply not the case. Bipolar disorder is a genetic illness that is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. There is nothing a person could do to cause the problem, and no amount of will power can fix it. Treatment should involve at least a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Another issue that may come up, especially if you are trying to help an older loved one, is that they may have been told in the past that nothing could be done to help them, but mental health care has made significant advances in recent years. Just a few decades ago, patients with a mental illness usually faced long-term hospitalization or electroconvulsive therapy. Today those options are rarely used for bipolar disorder. When they are used, it is only as a last resort in the most severe cases.

Keep in mind that your attitude towards your loved one's illness and treatment will impact his or her reaction. If you're negative, then they are more likely to view the process as hopeless and are less likely to continue. However, if you are positive and encouraging, your loved one will be more likely to accept and follow the doctor's advice. You may still encounter difficulties and resistance, but those will be easier to manage, especially during stable moods.