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How Family And Friends Can Help Those with Bipolar Disorder

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA Updated: Feb 27th 2017

The family and friends of those with bipolar disorder may become frightened at and angry about the impulsive and self-destructive behaviors associated with bipolar disorder that they see played out again and again. However, they also generally want to help the person. This is a good thing, because having access to the help and support of family and friends can make or break the chances of someone with bipolar disorder keeping themselves maximally stabilized and healthy. Family and friends provide social support and encouragement, which tends to provide a moderating influence on mood (e.g., helping mood to keep from sinking too low or too high). This influence takes on several different forms.

two women talking First, support takes the form of monitoring. Family and friends are in a perfect position to help those with bipolar disorder to monitor their moods. Often, family and friends will know that moods are shifting before patients will themselves. They can help make the person aware that he or she is again entering into a dangerous period. Family and friends can monitor medication-taking behavior. They can help patients either get back on bipolar medication when they stop taking it, or gather resources to help cope with the mood episodes that are likely to occur when patients are not medicated.

Second, family and friends can persistently encourage patients to comply with bipolar treatment and professional recommendations. This may include taking bipolar medications as prescribed, attending bipolar therapy groups, etc. Treatment compliance is important at all times. It can help prevent future mood swings from occurring. However, helping patients to comply with bipolar treatment recommendations is especially important when mood symptoms are lowering, as professional treatment offers the best opportunity to limit symptom severity. Patients frequently complain that they don't like the way that medication makes them feel and they want to stop taking it. Stopping medication also stops any preventative effect that the bipolar medications provide. This sets patients up for new mood cycles, sometimes with tragic results. Family and friends can help defuse this sort of situation by reinforcing professionals' treatment recommendations, including the importance of taking medicine as prescribed.

Third, family and friends can help support bipolar patients by helping them to "reality-test". This means to raise their awareness about times when patients' own judgments are faulty or when they are acting in odd, bizarre ways. Family and friends can help the person make more sound judgments. Often individuals suffering from bipolar disorders make excuses for their behavior, blaming other people or situations for their bipolar symptoms. Family members and friends can help point out this tendency when and if it occurs, so as to give the person an objective/outside perspective on their behavior.

Fourth, family and friends can initiate an intervention when necessary. They can make a psychiatrist appointment, or an appointment for bipolar therapy, and even accompany the person to see the doctor or therapist when this becomes necessary. This helps the person get connected to treatment and with the presence of a known person, may reduce the anxiety of seeing a professional. Family and friends can also help make arrangements for hospitalization when that becomes necessary.

Interventions are not just useful during times of crisis. During normal mood phases, family and friends can help those with bipolar disorder to plan for what they can do to minimize their future mood cycle intensities. They can then help them implement the various parts of that plan. For instance, if the mood stabilizing plan calls for regular exercise, family and friends can offer to be an exercise partner. This may increase the chances that exercise will actually take place because it is generally more pleasant to exercise when you have a partner with you. Ongoing encouragement and bipolar support are crucial to the stability of those with bipolar disorder.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

At wits end - April - Mar 3rd 2011

  I do not know where to start. My daughter , age 31 has bipolar, and has recently gone off her medications. She has stolen her father in law's car, ran to an domestic safe house, per 11year old son, has been bringing strage men into the house while father is gone working. Daughter has taken the children with her, has dyed her hair red, (something she would never do before) and states if anyone tries to talk to her about getting help, she will leave teh state and never allow us to see her children ever, this includes her husband.

I knwo she soo desperately needs to be committed to get her medications better adjusted, the question is, how do I go about makeing sure that this occurs and how do I get the children back to their father?

Thankful for support on-line - Margie Harris - Nov 11th 2009

I am a mother of a son, 35 years old, who was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder about 5 years ago.  He had a severe manic episode and was hospitalized and had six months of medication monitoring, which helped him to handle working again.  He kept a very great job as a manager in a hospital. But now the past month he had suicidal thoughts and was hospitilized.  He also is divorcing his wife of ten years, who is Schizophrenic Affective.  Tonite he has stolen our car and run off with a woman and has told my husband, "Good bye forever." 

We have the police out looking for him now to get him to a hospital to get help.  I am so thankful I found this site on the Internet tonite!  Reading this information and comments from others has brought much comfort to my heart and mind.  We are christians and we are praying for our son all the time.  If anyone out there is also a christian, please pray for our son with us tonite, that God will do a miracle for our son, keep his life safe and that he will get the right medical help he needs at this time.

I will continue to check this internet site for further help and in the near future my husband and I need to get into a parent support group we have been told about at the Psychiatric hospital.  Knowledge is power and we intend to get all we can to be the most helpful support to our son that we can be.

Thank you.

At my wits end - - Nov 7th 2009

My husband had a severe anxiety attack & went into deep depression. Now he may be bipolar as well. I never knew what this all meant before..or rather what bipolar was. But now reading this site and thinking back to all his behavior, it really lines times he thinks he is indestructable..and that mindset leads to very dangerous actions like drinking and driving, staying up late, thinking nothing can stop you. Also financially you think you can just spend and buy whatever you it has lead to severe financial problems for us because of his crazy spending spreets. He's horrible ot me sometimes...with the swearing and horrible name calling.  Its like we are not even married but just ppl who live with eachother. I don't see any improvement bc he doens't take his meds seriously...meaning never regularly or on time like the doc says.  My life is in his pill bottles, if he doesn't take them, he gives me trouble. And on top of all this he puts me down and says i have noting to contribute to the marriage. Its like being in a prison...he is completely unreliable and very unstable. I can't count on him for anything but i do it all for him. I badly want to not be married to him and i know my own sanity and well being is being compromised. I don't want to leave someone who is in such bad mental state but honestly he won't let me help him. Also i think manic depression can lead to infedelity, and that makes sense as well.

Anyone else had simliar problems?

Daniel's Wife - - Jul 20th 2009

I believe my husband is bipolar because he has these mood swings that is talked about in this article. He is angry all the time about small things. He needs help but is in denile. Our marriage is most likely going to end because he is so mentally abusive and controlling and he has been violent in the past. Am I right or is this not bipolar and is really something else?

What you can do to help a patient with Bipolar Disorder - April - Apr 10th 2009

I was diagnosed with bipolar diorder this year.  For years, it had been misdiagnosed as depression and anxiety so medication for these conditions were never really that effective because mood stabilizers were ignored and my manic episodes were never identified.  I think if you are a family member of someone with this disorder you can help them by taking to them when they are depressed or in mania.  Sometimes they repeat their concerns over and over again and you may get frustrated with them but this isn't their fault because their thought processes are accelerated and they usually can't stop thinking about what is bothering them.  Instead of getting frustated with them and not wanting to talk to them, recognize that is is part of their disease and help them look for solutions to their problems.  Don't tell them you have to go because dinner is ready or you have something to do because this can make them feel depressed and that you don't care about their concerns.  Give them the time of day because they are obviously very distressed and will appreciate it so much if you just listen to them.  It may also be very helpful if you point out that you think they are having a manic episode so that they can take their medication as sometimes it is prescibed "as needed."  Anti-psychotic drugs and benzodiazapines can help them calm down and they will truly appreciate your help in their time of need. 

Providing support for bi-polar client - Lena Sue Andrews - Apr 2nd 2009

As a mother of a middleaged bi polar client, being supportive is quiet difficult.  As the above article mentioned, continuing on prescribed medication is one of the most helpful things that the client can do.  It seems to be so very easy to get "street drugs" so bi polar disorder gets covered over with these drugs, often adding a more agressive behavior.  Intervention is not something that family and friends really want to do but sometimes that is the only way medication can be restarted and monitored by the physician.  Bi polar disorder is a trying disease for the client and family and friends.

misunderstood exploited - sandy magneron - Jun 3rd 2008


 i am the mother of a 22 yr old who has bo polar and autistic spectrum disorder + learning disabilities. he hias now in hospital because support workers arent trained and he became frustrated with them, he takes his anger out on me and hits me but he always rings me for help and support and i always help him but social services refuse to listen about his bi polar and asd and they made him revoke my enduring power of attorney, he was ok until they did this and try to make hime independent, he as becomeworse and they never take him out but they keep his money, this is why he is back in hospital but they dont want him to have any family support ever.  I have been fighting years for him

comeent on both family support and self help - janos - Sep 20th 2007


i am too have bipolar disorder, to be excact rapid cycling, i think most of the time i am quite good coping with most of the symptoms however, after researching for several years on the issue of this illness, i have to add. that all the coping techincs and family support can only be implemented if you do have a job where you can take several days off at teh time or even 1 or 2 days, of you have the financial backing of following treatment options,

unfortunately most of us out here with this illness have bills to pay and our families have jobs to attend to.

as well as due to the nature of the illness destructive financial behavior will end up being a bigger burden on ourselfs and families.

i found that everytime after an episode it gets harder and harder to bounce back to normal life.

having bipolar disorder will make life harder for ourselves anyone around us that cares about us after each episode,

i dont see any real solution that can help coping with this illness.

psychotherapy is one as well as medications also family help but todays world not many of us can let risk our jobs. or keep bailing bipolar family members out from or after distructive situations

a vicious cycle you need to work to support yourslef and your treatment options but most of the time our behavior makes it almost impossible to keep a job. or keeping a job that do have benefits and low stress enviroment,

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