How can friends and family help?
This page is for friends and family who want to help someone who has bipolar disorder.
Seeing someone you care about going through the moods and symptoms of bipolar disorder can be distressing. But there are lots of steps you can take to offer support, while also looking after your own wellbeing.
Be open about bipolar disorder
Being open to talking to someone about their experiences can help them feel supported and accepted. If you find it hard to talk about your experiences or want to learn more, you can visit the Hospital Authority’s web pages here for more information, or contact Bipolar HK (a peer-led Bipolar support group).
Make a plan for manic episodes
When your friend or family member is feeling well, try talking to them about how you can support them if they have a hypomanic or manic episode. This can help both of you feel more stable and in control of what’s happening. You could discuss ideas such as:
- enjoying being creative together
- offering a second opinion about projects or commitments, to help someone not take on too much
- if they would like you to, helping to manage money while they are unwell
- helping them keep a routine, including regular meals and a good sleep pattern
Discuss behaviour you find challenging
- If someone is hearing or seeing things you don’t, they might feel angry, annoyed or confused if you don’t share their beliefs. It’s helpful to stay calm, and let them know that, although you don’t share the belief, you understand that it feels real for them. Or, if possible, try to focus on supporting them with how they are feeling rather than confirming or challenging their perception of reality – what feels real for them is real in those moments.
- If someone becomes very disinhibited while manic, they may do things that feel embarrassing, strange or upsetting to you. It can be helpful to calmly discuss your feelings with them when they are feeling more stable. Try not to be judgemental or overly critical; focus on explaining how specific things they’ve done make you feel, rather than making general statements or accusations about their actions.
“What feels real is real for him in that moment. It helps when I respect that and comfort him rather than trying to explain it’s not ‘real’ for everyone else.”
Learn their warning signs and triggers
- Most people will have some warning signs that they are about to experience an episode of mania or depression. The best way to learn what these are for your friend or family member is to talk to them about these and explore together what they might be. If you have noticed certain behaviours that normally happen before an episode, you can gently let them know.
- Many people will also have triggers, such as stress, which can bring on an episode. You can try to understand what these triggers are for your friend or family member, and how you can help avoid or manage them.
“Having a father with bipolar is definitely a worry; you ride the highs and lows with them. Looking out for patterns, talking, remaining calm and supportive is essential.”
Try not to make assumptions
It’s understandable that you might find yourself constantly on the lookout for signs that your friend or family member is starting a bipolar episode, but remember that this might not be the most helpful way to support them.
- Always keep in mind that it’s possible for anyone to have a range of emotions and behaviour while still feeling stable overall.
- Try not to assume that any change in mood is a sign that someone is unwell. If you’re not sure, talking to your friend or family member is the best way to check.
“If those around me are concerned about whether changes are symptomatic of relapse [I encourage them] to ask, not assume.”
Look after yourself
It’s important to invest some time and energy into looking after yourself. You may feel very worried about your friend or family member, but making sure that you stay well will enable you to continue to offer support.