How can friends and family help?
This section 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, whilst 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 bipolar disorder or want to learn more, reading through this booklet is a positive first step to take. You can also contact Bipolar UK (see ‘Useful contacts’)
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 is happening. You could discuss ideas such as:
- Enjoying being creative together
- Offering a second opinion about projects or commitments, to help them 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 do not, they might feel angry or annoyed if you do not share their beliefs. It is helpful to stay calm and let them know that although you do not share the same beliefs, you understand that it feels real for them.
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 have done make you feel, rather than making general statements or accusations about their actions.
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. 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 is understandable that you might find yourself watching for your friend or family member to start showing symptoms of a bipolar episode, but remember that this might not be the most helpful way to support them. Always keep in mind that it is 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 are 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”
Look after yourself
It is 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.
For more information on how to look after yourself see Mind’s booklets ‘How to cope as a carer’ and ‘How to improve and maintain your mental wellbeing’. You can also contact Carers (see ‘Useful contacts’).
Talking about the condition
If the patient is having hallucinations, do not spend time discussing whether these are real, nor should you acknowledge these hallucinations. As an example, you can say: “I understand you are seeing these images and hearing sounds, but I do not experience them.” Work to understand what they are experiencing and how they feel, and encourage them to open up about their thoughts.
Those with bipolar disorder tend to worry most about their depressive episodes, while loved ones will worry most about their manic episodes. If their actions during their manic episodes worry you, try waiting until they have calmed down and let them know, work out a way together that you can be of help. You can try writing out an action plan that both of you can agree on.
You can provide all sorts of practical help for loved ones with bipolar disorder to ease their everyday struggles:
- Ask them what they may need help on, let them know that you can be the help they are looking for – under their consent, you can assist them in contacting relevant organizations
- Do not place all the responsibility on yourself. You can invite your closest friends to be carers with you
- Respect their opinions, especially regarding treatment options and arrangements
- Ensure they maintain a healthy diet and enough sleep
- With their consent, you can help to manage their finances so they do not spend irresponsibly during their manic episodes
Ask them to accept psychological assessments
If you believe they may harm themselves or those around them, you can encourage them to accept a psychological assessment, or consider in-patient care.
According to Article 136 under the Mental Health Ordinance, people under the age of 16 require the signature of a parent or guardian to be admitted into long term hospital care. If a medical professional believes a person requires in-patient care, they can apply under the Mental Health Ordinance to admit them without consent, in order to prevent any further problems from occurring.
Seeking additional help
In order to help a close member with bipolar disorder, you can further research to understand more about their condition. You can also visit an Integrated Community Centre for Mental Wellness under the Social Welfare Department, or join a support group for family members of those with mental health to prevent your stress from boiling over.
At times, those with bipolar disorder will self-harm, even plan to suicide. You can contact an organization for their help, such as Samaritans Hong Kong (see [Contact Information]). You can also encourage them during treatment to tell the medical professional about their thoughts.
Please ensure you are comfortable with providing care, do not place all the responsibility on your shoulders. If there is a need, ask a friend or family member to help care for them while you give yourself some time. You can consider face to face counselling.
Remember, after a person with bipolar disorder receives treatment, they can successfully control their condition and live a healthy life. With your support, their road to recovery will certainly be easier!