Every supporter of a loved one with bipolar disorder would like to believe that what they are doing is offering help to their loved one; however, sometimes without knowing it, their "help" actually hinders their loved one's recovery.

Here are 10 points to keep in mind if you’re serious about offering support that helps, not hinders.

1.      Never give up hope.

The first several years of dealing with bipolar disorder are usually the worst for your loved one, where they may even doubt if they are going to make it sometimes.  They definitely know that they can't make it themselves.  They can't give up hope, and they need you to never give up hope, too.  Despite the situations that often created frustration and hopelessness, never doubt their recovery. 

 

2.      Take some time.

Time is one of the hardest concepts to convey to people.  We all want immediate results, but when it comes to bipolar disorder, so-called overnight success can, in fact, extend to years.  For some people, it can take many years just to get an accurate diagnosis.  When it comes to bipolar disorder, there are simply no quick fixes.  Stability takes time.

 

3.      Face the facts.

Be willing to acknowledge that bipolar disorder is a legitimate, biological disorder.  It is as much as physical illness as a mental illness.  It is, in fact, a chemical imbalance of the brain.  Saying something like, “It’s all in your head,” or “Just snap out of it,” denies that reality.  As with diabetes or cancer, bipolar disorder requires medical treatment and management.  Your loved one needs to have a treatment plan to which they can stick.

 

4.      Adopt the right attitude.

How you see things does matter.  With the amount of stigma and the discrimination that exist in society at large, the last thing your loved one needs is misguided thinking coming from family and friends.  More support is needed, not more shame.  The more your response is based on reality and not on myths, the more your support can make a difference.

 

5.      Get educated.

People who have bipolar disorder often deny that anything’s wrong, and frequently, they don’t stay on their medication.  It’s important to learn about these and other problems with the disorder.  Fortunately, there are many resources available today, especially compared to 25 years ago, not the least of which is the Internet.

 

6.      Treat your loved one like an adult, not a child.

Bipolar disorder can arrest a person’s emotional maturity and produce behavior that appears very adolescent and reckless.  However, that still doesn’t mean the person is still not an adult in need of help.  Please remember that while your loved one may act like a child, there is an adult underneath, and treat them as such, making them take responsibility.

 

7.      Give your loved one some space.

Living with a serious illness is a daunting task.  It can be a foreign concept to separate yourself from the person you want to help.  But as a supporter, it is best to establish a loving distance between yourself and your loved one with bipolar disorder.  Be supportive, patient, and understanding – without being used.

 

8.      Forget the past.

This is very important for recovery, because frustration often accompanies bipolar disorder, and this traces back to unforgiveness to something from the past.  Family and friends can spend countless hours – if not years – wondering what went wrong.  Avoid making matters worse by wallowing in the past.

 

9.      Take care of yourself.

The family suffers right along with the person who has bipolar disorder, so it’s important for you to develop your own coping skills.  Only if you take care of yourself can you help your loved one.  All too often caregivers end up becoming ill themselves.

 

10.  Find a healthy balance.

There are so many questions: “How much should I be willing to do?”  “Should we use tough love?”   “How long does this go on?”  “How long should we wait before we intervene?”and on and on.  Bipolar disorder is tough.  It’s like walking a tightrope sometimes, where you’ve got to learn to balance your own welfare with the interest you have in supporting your loved one.  You also have to find a healthy balance when it comes to the support you offer.  Learn to take things in stride, one day at a time. 

Now, you have some valuable points to ponder as you help your loved one pursue recovery.  The more you’re in the know, the better equipped you are to offer the type of support that can make a positive difference.  The reward is a brighter, happier future – for everyone involved.  It’s worth the effort.