Is there anything that I can do to help support someone with this disorder?

My aunt has bipolar disorder and there have been times that I have been over at her house and she has gone into one of her low periods.  I was just wondering if there was anything that I could do or say to help her out if I ever experience it again, either a low or even a high.

First of all let me start by saying that you will likely experience this again as people with bipolar disorder generally have many mood fluctuations.  One suggestion is that when your aunt’s mood appears to be fairly stable you could try sitting down with her and just come out and “ask her if there is anything that you can do to help her when she is experiencing a low or a high.”  Depending on your relationship with her you may get a positive response or a negative response.  For instance some people with bipolar disorder myself included are not “always open to others wanting to help.”  I believe it is a very individual thing.  Sometimes I am able to openly discuss my bipolar disorder and other times I am not.  For me it depends on my mood and how my mental state is at the time.  If my mood is pretty stable and my mental state is fairly good I am usually more open to talking about what may help me and what may not.

Another factor for me is whether I have a good rapport with the person who wants to help me during my periods of depression and mania.  If I have a positive relationship and trust the person whom I am dealing with I am much more likely to discuss my disorder with them.  However if a person who I dislike, distrust, or have a poor rapport with I have a tendency to clam up and am not willing to open up and discuss my bipolar disorder with them.  Again I think it is a very individual thing, some people with bipolar are very open to anybody that wants to learn how to help them in their time of need.  While others are only open to that with certain people or not open to accepting help from others at all.  Assuming that you and your aunt have a good, positive, open relationship, my guess is that she will respond well if you are to ask her during a stable period how you can help her in the future.

Another thing that you can do is to educate yourself on bipolar disorder, as the more awareness that you can gain the more you will understand what your aunt experiences.  I think it is difficult for people without bipolar disorder to fully understand what it is like for us who do have it.  However you can still obtain knowledge, understanding and have compassion for those of us who have to live with bipolar on a daily basis.  There are also quite a few websites on the internet that you can access such as Marcia Purse’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder at www.about.com and at www.askabipolar.com to obtain more information.  Additionally there are online or in person support groups that you can become involved with as well.  Often times it helps to discuss ways of helping a person with bipolar disorder with people who have the disorder and/or with friends and family who deal with someone who has bipolar.  Another great resource is Bipolar Magazine which can be subscribed to, found in libraries, at community mental health clinics, doctor’s offices or online at www.bphope.com.  If you are interested in a subscription to Bipolar Magazine you can also call their office at 1-877-575-4673.

A few other things that you can do that may be helpful are:

  • If it seems as though a person does not want to talk don’t pressure them, give them some time and space
  • Sit with the person, or stay somewhere in the background as this can provide a feeling of safety and security for a person who is depressed or manic, you don’t have to talk if they are not able to, just be there for them
  • Don’t belittle a person by telling them that they are “crazy” or that they are “nuts”
  • Offer to go on a walk with them or encourage them to engage in some sort of exercise as this can help with depressed/manic moods
  • If they are receptive to you asking some questions, ask whether they have been taking their medication, keeping doctor/therapy appointments, are eating and getting enough sleep as all of these things can upset our balance if ignored
  • Realize that a person’s mood can be effected by things like season changes, stress, premenstrual syndrome, problems at work/school, interactions with other people (strained relationships with family/friends/coworkers/bosses) can all attribute to a significant change in mood
  • Offer to attend a doctor’s or therapy appointment with them
  • Try to be empathic and offer support and any kind of encouragement that you can
  • See if you can engage the person in some sort of positive relaxing activity that they enjoy
  • Use humor, if you can get a person laughing it often helps improve their mood
  • Learn about other disorders that the person may have, some of us have multiple disorders that can complicate things more
  • If someone is presenting as highly manic or depressed and are a danger to themselves or others call 911 right away
  • Learn about suicide prevention, hopefully you will never have to intervene with someone who is suicidal but if you ever have to you will at least know what to do to help

Thank you for your question and if you have any further questions or comments please visit our website at www.askabipolar.com – or email me at Vicky @ askabipolar . com (remove spaces first)

5 thoughts on “Is there anything that I can do to help support someone with this disorder?

  1. Thanks, Vicky. That’s a really helpful post. I haven’t really considered how to respond if people offer help in terms of my bipolar disorder. I actually don’t think anyone has ever offered help me that directly before.

    I’d say there’s nothing wrong with offering to help other people out, but it’s important to be able to accept a “no”. For me, at least, being around other people is a way of not worrying about my bipolar disorder, and a lot of the time, I just want to socialize and not worry about my feelings.

    However, some people would really appreciate the offer, and I don’t think anyone would ever be offended by a simple offer. Some people might want to talk about their situation and feel really isolated.

  2. Hi Daniel I am glad you found my post helpful. Thanks for your comments. I think that a lot of people are likely afraid to directly ask people with bipolar how they can help. I am hoping that posts like mine will encourage others to educate themselves and remove any fears that they may have. I totally agree with you that it is important for others to accept a response of “no” if a person does not want to discuss their disorder or does not feel they need help at that time. Sometimes it is better for me to be left alone but to know I do have a few supports that I can go to if things are to get unbearable. Most of the time I need to be alone when I am struggling the last thing I want to do is socialize. I tend to withdraw and turn to my writing or art as I like to draw and paint. Vicky

  3. What a wonderful response to this question. It covers so many important points about supporting a loved one who has bipolar disorder.
    Some points of special significance include:
    1) Discuss how you can help whilst the bipolar is in a normal state of mind
    2) Listen carefully and react to the feedback you receive
    3) Learn what you can about the disorder.
    4) If necessary be prepared to seek help from experts in an emergency.

    The question itself does highlight a very important fact. Bipolar disorder is far easier to cope with if you are surrounded with loved ones who understand the disorder. I can testify to this as a person who has the diagnosis of bipolar type 1 and a wife who loves me.

  4. Thank you for your comments Ray. You are very fortunate to have a loving wife who understands your bipolar disorder. I have very few supports and no significant other and for sure that makes it very hard to cope with my bipolar II. I am glad you found my post helpful. Feel free to send any questions that you may have in the future to the askabipolar website, Vicky……..

  5. Thanks, Vicky. I apologize for replying to your post so late. I appreciate all the advice you gave, and will take it all into consideration the next time I am in a situation with my aunt.

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