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10 Ways to Help Someone Who Has Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are sometimes called "no casserole" diseases. Meaning that when someone is diagnosed with a physical health condition like cancer, people are quick to show their support by bringing casseroles and helping out in other ways. But this usually doesn't happen when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness. 

Maybe this is partly because people aren't sure what to do or how they can help. Well it's not that different than if they were suffering from a physical illness: be there for them, listen, and offer to help with things they need getting done. Bringing a casserole or meal would probably be appreciated as well. 

We asked our volunteers who live with bipolar disorder for more suggestions of things they have found helpful. Here's what they had to say.

1. Listen without judging or trying to fix the problem 

It can be hard to listen without offering advice, but sometimes being heard is more important than fixing the problem. If this concept is difficult to understand, read this article which explains it in more detail. 

2. Let them know you are available to talk when they need to 

It's comforting to know that you are there, even if the person doesn't feel like talking at the moment. 

3. Ask what they need help with 

Sometimes what seems like a simple task can be daunting and overwhelming. Offer to help with dishes or dinner to lighten their workload. Or maybe they need helping picking their kids up from school, ask to see what you can help with. 

4. Take them out for coffee, encourage them to do things together out of the house

Sometimes people with bipolar disorder, depression in particular, can isolate themselves. Try to find something they enjoy that you can do together, like getting a bite to eat, going to the movies, or going for a walk outside. 

5. Continue inviting them to do things together

Keep inviting them even if they decline your invitation. Social anxiety or other reasons might keep them from showing up, but they will appreciate being included. 

6. Understand when they need some space or alone time

Sometimes people need some time by themselves, and it doesn't mean they are mad at you. Try not to take it personally and respect their space. 

7. Offer to go to a support group with them

Especially if they have never been to a support group before, they might be nervous about going by themselves. It might be easier to go if they have a trusted friend with them. And even if they don't want you to go with them, they will likely appreciate that you offered. 

8. Reassure them that they are still fully valid participants of society

Let them know that their lives have meaning. The illness does not define them and should not limit them. 

9. Be supportive of their treatment plan

Even if it’s not the same treatment plan you would choose for yourself. 

10. Educate yourself about bipolar disorder

The more you learn, the better you will be able to understand and communicate about it. You are off to a good start by reading this article! Learn more on our website by reading our articles and blogs, or watching our webinar series. We also have a free book called Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder available here

 

This article was written by our Advice and Support Community, a group of about 50 volunteers who contribute their advice based on their experience living with or caring for someone with bipolar disorder.

International Bipolar Foundation is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or received from the International Bipolar Foundation.

Comments

my thirteen year old friend might have bipolar. im the same age and he's really worried that being bipolar means that he might have to go to hospital. i dont know how to help him...

Hi Keren, you are doing the right thing by trying to help you friend. You should encourage him to talk about this with your school counselor, his doctor, his parents, or another adult that he trusts. There are different types of bipolar disorder and there is a range of how "bad" it is. It doesn't mean he will have to go to the hospital. But he might need to check in with a doctor more often.

It might help him to learn more about bipolar disorder so it doesn't seem as scary. Here are some things he can read: 

This one lists the symptoms of bipolar disorder, so he can see how many of them he has or does not have: http://www.ibpf.org/learn 

And this is a blog written by someone who has bipolar disorder, with advice for people who are new to it: http://ibpf.org/blog/advice-newly-diagnosed

If you have any more questions you can email Heather at hzupin@ibpf.org

I have been diagnosed 4yrs ago after almost killing myself, I've been through a lot but I'm proud to say that I have done very well by aiming to be positive as hard as it is and I try getting myself out situations that affect me. Its not the easiest to manage and fail miserably at times but I try at least. Times are rough and I take it almost minute for minute and I dont hide it from anyone, I tell them what I deal with and wish most people would take some time to understand what I deal with better, I try and cope but its not easy. So far I'm doing well.

I have bipolar disorder. The people I love know it and are supportive for the most part. When I self isolate it is not because I don't love and care about you.

my brother has biopolar its difficult to understand him...where can i find a group around nelspruit so that he can share what he feels.

I LOVE THIS ARTICLE

I'm 11 I think I have bipolar disorder. I give you my thanks for writing this it really made my day finding out that people understand how I feel. I've even thought about suicide or running away and sometimes out of nowhere I'll act like I just went on drugs. I can't focus in school and its hard to keep up in the advanced classes where I go to school. My parents don't know that I'm 99.9% sure that I have this the only ones who know are my best friends ( 2 people my crush and BFF). I wish I could show this to them, do you think I should?
Well thanks for listening to me rant about my life! :)

Alula well done for speaking up on here, you are very brave. Please consider talking to your mum or dad, they can help you get some help. I first realised I was different around the same age as you. If I had spoken up about it earlier, it really would have helped me in later life. Sending you much love and a hug. From a bi polar mum x

My 16 yo was diagnosed about a 1 1/2 years ago after major suicide attempt. She has done so well with therapy, I'm so proud of how far she's come! Unfortunately myself, my 15 yo old and her stepfather are exhausted and and relations hAve become strained. As mom Im in the middle of all three of them! It seems as everyday she does something to upset the others. They feel she does it on purpose. .I can't figure out what is mental illness and what is manipulation. The school is always sending her home, she takes things from us and then lies but shows no empathy of how upset we are about it but says she loves us and would never hurt us. I'm so torn between everyone I'm trying to educate the other 2 and trying to make her responsible for actions, but everyone is exhausted. If someone could direct me, I would so appreciate it! A little background my late husband their dad shot himself after 25 years of marriage( I never saw it coming), so it's been almost 5 years now both girls have been diagnosed with anxiety/panic disorder, depression, ptsd, and my one with bipolar. I haven't even grieved yet because just trying to keep them healthy. They have been in therapy since his death. I'm so tired but refuse to give up plus I work 3 15 hour days so I can get everyone to appts. On days off. Please any direction would be great! Sorry so long!

I'm 17 y.o and my girlfriend is the same age.Shes bipolar and she says she has a lot of depressed days.She asked me for a break.I thought it would help her so I agreed But she says there are some voices in her head that's asking her to do things like killing herself.Its getting hard for me to control that and it's worrying her.Is there any way that these "voices" can be stopped.I don't want her to suffer and she is going through a lot now

We are sorry to hear about what you're going through and we are concerned about you. If you or your partner are in crisis, please call the Crisis Hotline or Text Line which you can access by calling 1-800-273-8255 or texting START to 741-741 as we are not a crisis center. If you are not in crisis and want to talk to someone online, we recommend the website www.7cups.com. It's a free, anonymous chat with a trained listener. 

This webinar provides a step by step guide to convince a loved one to get counseling: http://ibpf.org/you-need-help-step-step-plan-convince-loved-one-get-counseling 

I believe my 26 year old son is bipolar, it started about 4 years ago but he has yet to be diagnosed, how can I get him to see that there is something wrong. Thank you

My daughter has periods of high productivity DIY projects and then boughts of anger when she is yelling at her kids and husband for not doing enough to help. Her husband loves her, works long days as a laborer and is a devoted dad. Nothing he does is good enough. Might she have bipolar? How can we get her to see that her anger is driving her family away. She says she wants a divorce which will only compound her feelings of isolation. How do we approach her with our concern?

Hello I'm 19 years old and my partner is the same and he wants a break as he is feeling unhappy with everything right now. I agreed to this but he wants to get through it alone and he doesn't want me to help. I have done an assessment on his behalf and it says he has bipolar, how do you be there as help but not in the way without contact?

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