There’s no doubt that mental illness often impacts more than just the person fighting it. Caring for or supporting someone living with bipolar disorder can be downright draining. Though bipolar disorder may look slightly different for every individual (especially considering there are 2 distinct types of bipolar disorder), its emotional ups and downs can be destabilizing and difficult for everyone affected. The good news is that with proper treatment (typically including a combination of professional counselling and medication) and enough social support, lots of folks living with bipolar disorder are able to stabilize their mood, ground themselves, and live healthy, full lives. If you know someone living with bipolar disorder and want to learn more about how you can best support them, keep reading.
Let go of misconceptions – and keep learning
One of the best things you can do when supporting someone dealing with any mental health concern is to learn more about what they’re coping with, including trying to actively “unlearn” the many myths and misconceptions swirling around it. Mental illness stigmas spread misinformation about what disorders look and feel like. The more you educate yourself about bipolar disorder and what it really is, the better equipped you will be to understand and support someone living with it. You might start by checking out our “Mythbusting Bipolar Disorder” article here.
Help them destress
Many mental illnesses are either triggered or made worse by too much stress. If you have someone in your life with bipolar disorder who seems to have a lot on their plate, try asking if there’s something you can do to help lighten the load. Helping to tidy up their apartment or running a couple of quick errands for them could be useful. You can also encourage self-care by inviting them to join you for an activity that you both find relaxing, like watching a movie together or going for a walk by the water or in the park.
Just be there
In many cases, just having someone to talk to can be incredibly therapeutic. Though it might be tempting to give advice that you think might help them through their issues, in cases where mental illness is involved, it’s often best to leave the advice-giving to a professional (unless explicitly asked) and act as a non-judgemental listening ear instead. Don’t be too pushy or force them to talk about what they’re going through if they don’t want to, but let them know that you’re there for them if they need someone to chat with.
Encourage other supports
While having friends and loved ones to lean on is important for recovery, it’s important that the person living with bipolar disorder is receiving treatment from a professional – and treatment plans will likely differ from person-to-person. Even during periods where they may be feeling good, maintaining a regular treatment schedule can help them prevent their symptoms from returning or worsening. If you think someone you care about might be struggling with bipolar disorder but you’re not sure how to encourage them to seek treatment, check out our article on that here.
Take care of yourself, too
It’s no doubt that supporting someone else through their mental health journey can begin to take a toll on your own mental health. Although it’s tempting to prioritize the needs of someone who you know to be struggling, remember to check-in with yourself often to make sure you’re getting enough rest and that your own needs are being met. Taking care of yourself means you’re less likely to get burnt out, and more likely to be around as a long-term support for this person to see them through better days.
Like many mental health issues, bipolar disorder can be complex and difficult to cope with. Remember to encourage your loved ones who struggle with it that recovery is possible, and will come with time and effort. Remind them as often as you can that you’re there for them if they need you, and take the time to really educate yourself and understand what they’re going through. Finally, make sure to take care of yourself first – this is the only way to ensure that you really “show up” for the people you care about.