“I recently met this guy who might have Bipolar syndrome. But I guess my question is when he gets into a depressive/manic mode what is the best way to react? Are there things that are better to say vs. others? Are their ways of keeping them up?”
Thank you for taking the time to write in and find out how to deal with someone who has this illness instead of the usual knee jerk reaction of walking away or letting the media or social influences guide you in an answer to this question. This guy is also very lucky to have met someone who takes an interest in dealing with this disorder as well. There are so many relationships that do not work out so well because the non-bipolar party does not take the time to try to understand how to interact when the bipolar symptoms come out and rear their ugly head. That said, here are the best tips that I can give you speaking generally and not knowing the person specifically and their own specific triggers.
Let’s start with your first question. What is the best way to react when he gets into a depressive or manic mode?
Depressive: Typically, when individuals with bipolar get into their depressive modes, they tend to isolate and get very, very depressed. Not just your typical “I’m sad today” kind of depression, but a depression that can last weeks at a time and can even lead to suicidal thoughts or tendencies. It’s important to remember when you are dealing with a depressive episode, you DO NOT try to tell your guy things like:
- “We all have problems. Some people have it worse than you.”
- “Cheer up. It’s not that bad”
- “Can’t you just take your medicine?”
Helpful things to say would be:
- “Is there anything I can do right now to help you?”
- “Don’t worry. This will pass. You know its just part of the cycle and I’m here if you need me”
- “I know it seems overwhelming right now, but we will get through this together.”
Manic: This typically depends if they are manic or hypomanic. If they are manic, the symptoms are a lot more extreme than hypomania. When someone is hypomanic, they tend to have a lot more energy, have racing thoughts, require less sleep, talk very rapidly and talk A LOT, and well, my roommates used to say that when I had my hypomanic episodes, I was a lot like the Road Runner from the Looney Tunes cartoons. I would also get fixated on certain ideas and could not think about anything else until the idea was completed perfectly. For example, I wanted a specific graphic for a blog post I had written. Instead of spending my time paying my bills, cleaning the house, and doing the laundry, I spent 4 hours looking for that one specific graphic and I never even finished the blog post I needed it for. If someone is manic, they can go without sleep for long periods of time, can experience delusions or euphoria, and can engage in reckless behaviors (such as drug use, promiscuity, etc.) to name a few. Since it depends on the severity of the mania, it’s difficult to suggest specific things to say that would be helpful, but some things to say or do that could be helpful in the situation would be:
- Suggesting a call to the doctor to make an appointment. The doctor may be able to recommend possible changes in medications or in daily lifestyle routine that may help bring the mania down or reduce the frequency of the episodes.
- Let them know that you are there for them if they need anything.
- Talk with them before hand and ask them what is most helpful to them when they are in a manic episode.
Things to NOT to do or say:
- Don’t try to tell them to “calm down” or “stop acting crazy” or anything of that nature. Most times, when those with bipolar are in a manic phase, it can hard to reason with them. Telling them NOT to do things can anger them and make them shut you out completely.
- Don’t shut them out. If their behaviors get too extreme or dangerous to where they may be a danger to themselves, they may need someone who can alert either a parent or doctor and get them help.
Your next question: Are there ways of keeping them “up”?
Yes and No. There are measures that can be taken to maintain stability for someone who has bipolar, but even if all of those measures are taken, the ups and downs will still occur but may be less severe and/or less frequent. Most of the ways for maintaining stability have to be taken by the person who has bipolar. Some of those measures include:
- Regular doctor visits
- Maintaining medication regimes
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise, a low stress environment)
- Awareness of triggers (this is something you need to discuss with the person who has bipolar because these are different for each person.)
You can help keep them stable by making sure that they keep their doctors visits, take their medication, keep a healthy lifestyle and try to avoid as many triggers as possible. Also, just being there for them and asking them simply what you can do to help them when they are in either their manic or depressive state, you can be a bigger help than you would think.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Understanding that this illness has biological components and is not something that one has “control” over is one of the most important things to remember. The mood swings can come and go at anytime and can come with little to no warning. The person with bipolar disorder can follow every instruction given to them by the doctor and still have ups and downs. They can not control biology. I have personally had many people think that just by taking my medication, I should not have any ups or downs and that the medications are the “cure.” It becomes incredibly frustrating trying to explain to them that medications are not a “cure” and that it just helps with the frequency and the severity of the ups and downs.
I hope that this was helpful as you begin this new relationship. 🙂