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Knowing how to help a loved one with bipolar disorder can be a challenging thing to do. One of the most critical steps in supporting someone with bipolar disorder is to learn more about it. People with bipolar disorder suffer from extreme highs and lows, which are very different from the ups and downs many people experience in everyday life. The highs are called mania or hypomania, and the lows are depression. The depression a loved one experiences is not personal and isn’t a choice they have made. It’s crucial to remember this when you notice your loved one slipping into a low.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy, concentration, and overall ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown, although a combination of genetics, chemistry makeup of the brain, and the environment are believed to play a role.
There are three types of bipolar disorder.
#1 Bipolar I Disorder
The most severe type of bipolar disorder is called bipolar I disorder and typically causes the person to need immediate hospital care following a manic episode that lasts for seven or more days. Depressive episodes commonly occur and could last for up to two weeks
#2 Bipolar II Disorder
The second type of bipolar disorder is called bipolar II disorder, which involves depressive and hypomanic episodes. Hypomanic episodes may share similarities with manic episodes. However, they are less severe and do not include psychotic episodes.
#3 Cyclothymic Disorder
The third type of bipolar disorder is known as cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia. The symptoms of this type of bipolar disorder do not qualify as full-blown hypomanic or depressive episodes. Instead, it’s defined by periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are present for two years.
When Do Symptoms Appear?
The age at which symptoms of bipolar disorder commonly first appear is 25, although they can occur in teens and childhood. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) page on “Bipolar Disorder,” the disorder affects about 2.8% of the U.S. population, and nearly 83% of cases are classified as severe.
Identifying When Symptoms Are Present
Symptoms and their severity of them vary case by case. They may change over time, and a person could go extended periods – even years – without any symptoms. However, bipolar disorder usually requires lifelong treatment to help people improve their quality of life.
Those who experience mania and hypomania may feel very good and complete daily tasks at work or school as they usually would. However, although they may not recognize anything is wrong, loved ones will surely notice something is off as moods and activity levels change.
As a loved one, a few things to look out for in a manic or hypomanic episode include:
- Short temper and seeming extremely irritable
- Engaging in risky things that exhibit poor judgment, such as spending too much money or eating/drinking more than usual
- Talking very fast and appearing to have racing thoughts
- Appearing more active than usual or seeming wired
- Hallucinations or delusions that they are famous or have superpowers
On the other hand, symptoms of a depressive episode in a loved one may include:
- Isolating themselves from others and barely leaving their home or answering calls
- Talking very slow and forgetting things easily
- Sleeping too much or not at all
- Lack of interest in anything or being unable to complete simple tasks
- Falsely believing they are broke, have committed a serious crime, or have a severe undiagnosed illness
How to Offer Understanding and Hope
Knowing how to support someone with bipolar disorder can be a challenge. It’s important to remember they cannot control their unpredictable behavior, and their judgment may sometimes be impaired. Because they occasionally can’t notice their symptoms as clearly as you can, they likely can’t recognize when it’s time to seek help.
Communicate with your loved one about how to help during a bad episode. Knowing what to expect of each other can help with emergencies in the future. Encourage them to seek treatment or stick to their current treatment plan, whether that’s counseling or medication.
Further, someone with bipolar disorder may also be depressed, so it’s essential to get out with them as much as possible. For example, invite them to dinner or go on a walk for some fresh air. If they decline your offer, don’t push them to join but follow up in a few days.
Supporting a loved one through their battle with bipolar disorder is not always an easy thing to do. The best thing you can do is offer a listening ear, compassion, and forgiveness through their darkest times.
Accepting and understanding your loved one’s battle with bipolar disorder can be difficult and take a toll on your emotional well-being. To best help them, you must also protect your mental health. At Alter Wellness Care, we can help you develop coping and communication strategies to strengthen your relationship with your loved one through our family plan. Bipolar disorder is a life-long illness, but that doesn’t mean either of you has to suffer the symptoms alone. Long-term, ongoing treatments can help keep symptoms under control so your loved one can continue to live a healthy, successful life. We can treat even the most severe forms of bipolar disorder and lead them on the road to recovery. For more information about our customizable programs, call Alter Wellness Care at (866) 311-3510.