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What To Do If You Think Someone Might Have Bipolar Disorder

It’s hard to watch some you care about when they’re not doing well. You want to help but maybe you don’t know how, and you don’t want to offend them or damage your relationship. 

Here are some suggestions on how to help them and ways to approach the topic.  

1. Learn more about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is not the same as being moody or unpredictable. It involves a pattern of depressive and hypomanic or manic episodes, where a certain number of symptoms must be present for at least a certain number of days. How these symptoms present themselves and how often varies from person to person. 

Only a professional can diagnose someone with bipolar disorder. You’re not trying to diagnose the person you care about, rather gaining knowledge to better understand what they are going through and how you can help them.

You’re off to a great start by reading this article. Another helpful resource is our free book, Healthy Living with Bipolar Disorder.

2. Approach them with support, not judgment

Once you’ve learned about bipolar disorder and still think they might have it, talk to them about it. They might have been thinking the same thing themselves but weren’t sure how to reach out.

There’s also a chance that they might not be aware of what you see as symptoms. Be sensitive when approaching the topic, here are a few things to keep in mind:

It’s really hard to tell someone that you think they have a mental illness because that person might feel judged or is not ready to come to terms with it. Don’t make it feel like an intervention. Don’t force the person to talk if he/she is not ready to.” – Melanie Luxenberg

It is more about listening than anything. Especially when dealing with depression, just being with someone, showing them that you are interested in their life, and that you care about their feelings is the best help. Never show that being with that person is an inconvenience to you.” – Steve Comer 

“Try to talk calmly with the person about what you've observed and what you think it might mean. Try to be non confrontational. Emphasize that it's manageable.” – S.B.

Some phrases you could use:

  • How have you been feeling lately?
  • Is there something on your mind?
  • I will be here for you if you want to talk
  • You’re not alone
  • We will get through this together  
  • I am here for you
  • I support you
  • You and your life are important to me
  • You can tell me if something is wrong, I will help you get through it

3. Encourage them to make an appointment

Let them know that help is available and encourage them to make an appointment with a mental health professional. A diagnosis is the first step for them to learn more about what they have and how to treat it.

Psychiatrist or Therapist? Many see both. Because bipolar disorder varies from person to person, so does the right treatment plan. Where to start depends on the person’s goals, here’s what each works on:

  • Psychiatrists will explore medication options and work with you to find the right medication. Medication can reduce the frequency and severity of episodes.
  • Therapy helps you learn self-awareness and how to process your emotions. There are many types of therapy including talk therapy or therapies where you learn specific coping skills such as DBT, CBT, and mindfulness.

How you bring this up is important, you don’t want to blame them or make them feel worse than they already do. Focus on wanting to help them feel better, as opposed to treating it as a problem they need to fix. Here are some suggestions: 

Without accusation or judgment, simply encourage your loved one to seek out a mental health professional who can help guide him or her through this challenging time and determine whether it is due to bipolar disorder or something else.” – Danielle Hark 

Go over some information about bipolar disorder and ask if they see themselves in anything that’s said. Do not dismiss the person, Do not ignore them; offer kindness and support.” – Vicki M. Taylor

Ask how things are going? Listen for the context and tone of the answer. Unusual ebullience and eloquence would indicate a high. Unusual low tone, passive answers and sense of anxiety would indicate a low. Gently engage in conversation as a friend. Ask about their moods and views. Be understanding. Don’t brush them off.” - R.B. Armstrong

Some phrases you could use:

  • This is a medical illness and it is not your fault
  • There is nothing wrong or bad about seeking help
  • There’s no shame in reaching out 
  • Talking to someone can make a big difference
  • I really hope you will consider seeing someone 

4. Offer to help them make and prepare for the appointment

Once someone is ready to make an appointment, getting one is not always easy. Figuring out insurance and finding the right doctor can be a complicated and frustrating process. Offer to help them with this. You could help them find the right doctor by looking into how their insurance works and searching doctor reviews online. You could also help them with things like driving them to the appointment, or babysitting while they go to their appointment.

They might be nervous about going to the appointment. Help them prepare by going over things they should talk about. Suggest that they take notes about their symptoms and bring them to the appointment. Use this Mood Disorder Questionnaire as a starting point: http://goo.gl/oGDDkb  

Some phrases you could use:

  • How can I best support you?
  • How can I help you to get the help that you need?
  • Do you want me to start looking for doctors in the area?
  • Do you want me to drive you to appointments?
  • Is there anything else I can help with?
  • Is there a specific reason that you don’t want to make an appointment? How can I help you with that?

5. If they’re not ready for an appointment, try these smaller steps

Sometimes the idea of going to an appointment is too daunting, and the person is just not ready. They might know they need help, but be afraid of having a label of a mental illness. They could have had a bad experience with a previous psychiatrist or therapist that keeps them from wanting to try again. Or their condition might make them afraid to leave the house or drive to the appointment.

They could also be ready and wanting the appointment, but have to wait several months to be seen.

In the meantime, there are options available to start addressing mental health before they are able or ready to see a professional.  Of course, these can also be used in conjunction with professional treatment.  

1) Mental Health Apps

There are several apps out there ranging from mood tracking to meditation. These are helpful for all types of people, but for those who aren’t ready to make an appointment it’s a simple way to start thinking about mental health. 

Encourage them to just download the app first. Then to just try it once. Apps like Headspace can introduce you to the concept of mindful meditation, and are designed for beginners.

Mood tracker apps like Pacifica are also helpful for recognizing any patterns and gaining self-awareness. Mood tracking will also be helpful when they do see a doctor, as it will make it easier to explain their symptoms.

2) Support Groups

Many support groups are free and no appointment is required, which makes it easier for some people to try first if they’re not ready or can’t afford to see a doctor.

Support groups allow attendees to meet others that are going through the same thing as them. Some people may have never met someone else with the same experience. Being able to talk and connect with someone who truly understands you is invaluable. You can also learn from each other about what has worked and what hasn’t, and learn more about the available local resources.

There are also support groups for friends and family of those with mental illness. Here are a few organizations that offer free support groups.

If you need help finding a group in your area, search for “bipolar support groups” or “mental illness support groups” and your location, or email info@ibpf.org for help.

3) Online support

If a support group is not available in your area, or the person doesn’t want to attend one, online support is also available. The website www.7cups.com connects you with a trained listener. Many people use Facebook and other social media as a way of online support, either by joining private Facebook groups or reading blogs or articles like this one and joining the discussion in the comments.

6. Encourage healthy lifestyle choices

Lifestyle factors like sleep, nutrition, and exercise can have a big impact on mood. Sometimes people are surprised by this, but it makes sense if you think about it. Your mental and physical health are connected. Taking care of your body will also be better for your brain, which is part of your body after all.

Sleep in particular is incredibly important for bipolar disorder, as there is a strong connection to circadian rhythms. Not only is the amount of sleep important, but the timing matters too. It’s best to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (although easier said than done). Many people who are living well with bipolar disorder stress the importance of a strict sleep schedule. For some, missing a night of sleep could trigger a manic episode.

Learn more in our article on self-management techniques or in this webinar on relapse prevention

7. Get support for yourself

Mental illness is sometimes referred to as a “no casserole disease.” When someone gets cancer or has heart surgery, friends, family, and neighbors are quick to show their support. It’s common to bring food because they know how hard it is to cook dinner when you are coping with a serious health issue.

This doesn’t happen as often when a family is dealing with mental illness. People might be afraid to even tell others what is going on, and when they do, they are rarely given the same type of understanding that someone struggling with a physical health condition is.

But things are getting better. Stigma for mental illness is decreasing, and more people recognize that it should be treated equally as physical health.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your support system when you need help. Ask for help with things like doing the dishes, laundry, or getting dinner.

You might also want to try attending a support group for friends and family members. It’s helpful to connect with others in a similar situation. And if you are having a particularly rough time encouraging your loved one to get help, then you might meet people with ideas you hadn’t thought of yet.

Your health is also important, and you will be best able to help others when you take care of yourself as well.

 

The information contained in or made available through this article cannot replace or substitute for the services of trained professionals in the medical field. We do not recommend any specific treatment, drug, food or supplement. 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 International Bipolar Foundation.

Comments

Thank you for this information and all that you do. I tried so hard to get my adult son into treatment, but he never chose to. I, instead, sought support groups and my own counseling. Now he is in jail awaiting his day in mental health court. Not ideal, but sometimes being forced into it is the only option left.

This is an excellent article, written from a compassionate standpoint. My mom and I have bi-polar, and are being treated. My sister says she's healed, and now refuses treatment, or even Dr, appts. It's so sad and frustrating to watch her struggle, and be unable to convince her that she needs help.

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what they are discussing online. You certainly understand how
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i have been looking on the internet all the test and get back i have a very high chance i have Bipolar Disorder but my psychiatrist will not admit that i do

I seeking for any advice
I have known my ex husband now for 7 years , 5 years we lived together and we now back again. I suspect he is bipolar and I have confronted him with it and told him he needed help which he took as an insult. We met in 2010, moved in together 2012 and married 2015 and divorced 2016 November. I even moved out and got myself a house opened my own business . I am 35 and his 63 am his third wife . He has four grown up kids from previous marriages . I even met up with his second ex wife and she did not dare to tell me . His daughter lately hinted that she grew up in a house where he could not get help . I
My diagnosis is based on the past experiences

2010 we dated few months and we broke up
without reason.
2011 we met again and decided to work things out -I had to move close to his house an hour away from my previous place meaning I changed my child school ,

2012. April he dumped me without reason he just started getting nasty saying mean things on text messages. Like we could not be together anymore and that I was only good for sex .Meanwhile I was studying hotel school diploma as we were going to open a restaurant in the future.

2012 October he contacted me while I was studying . I did not want to get back to him I highlighted how he hurt me and all the mean things he sent me . He apologized and asked for another chance and guaranteed he will not be mean . Ofcourse my feelings where still there I loved him dearly and still do . We worked it out and my child and I moved in with him.

2013 we opened the restaurant
We worked very hard I was the Chef and trained all basically it was our baby. We both put a lot of effort. The restaurant took a strain in our relation, lots of a stupid fights .

Few months down the line my child and I got kicked out after a disagreement about work . He then said I am planning to kill him and am trying to destroy the business telling the police . We got an eviction Order and we out on the streets.

I asked him to forgive me and he did and took me back again. My child was 13 and she told me he was acting like BP and which I brushed off.

2014 We had Constant conversation fights , I worked very hard 11 till midnight and ofcourse had two days off. But in the off days we ran errrands . My child was in boarding school she started cutting herself from the problems at home ; I was too busy at work to notice anything wrong. She isolated herself and never spoke and ended up not coming home on weekends.
She went for therapy sessions for help.;
2015 things got calm we did no fight I began to monitor him carefully. We got married and all was great went on vacation got back to work all was normal. The outburst would happen for no reason or I would trigger them without knowing .

2016 I made Sure to avoid fights no matter what,I managed and recall telling my best friend how content I was.

October we had another stupid argument which led him to check in a hotel two nights before He left for two months to Asia. I moved out as hard as it was left everything behind ; he ordered his daughter to come take his car keys and business card.

December he was back and we met few times he was the man I fell in love with.
January he Begged me back and stupid enough out of love I went back.

He bought a house that we meant to be moving in together and we went for marriage counseling once . But when we got back together he would like cancel the plans unforeseen. Change moods tell me all nasty things. This moment I realized he might be Bipolar .
I then looked at all fights which I blamed myself.
Well at the moment it is May 2017 and we been on holiday for a month traveling around and have 3 weeks left . We were in Italy it was beautiful and connecting very well. But a month ago there was an outburst which lasted 2 weeks. Just beginning of our holiday.
This time it started 2 days back and we drove to France and he booked separate rooms .

In the outburst he says:

He does not love me anymore
It is over ,I make him miserable , he calls me stupid; I should find a man who loves me . He totally changes kicks me out like am a stranger . This has been going on for years. Same thing over and over. I cry and now I realize he needs help but he will not help himself as he says it is an insult.

When he looks at me he looks at me with disgust like I smell .I have been told so much that how much he does not want me or love me . Then when calms down after weeks or days depends he is back to the loving man.
At times I see the episodes coming, when he runs his fingers in his hair and humming then I would avoid he getting in his way. No matter how sarcastic he gets I learnt to stay calm.
At times there is no warning it can just come . Also when he is feeling pain (gout)
or he gets unpleasant news from his children.
One thing for sure I can not anymore deal with this and also I do not want to run away either am prepared to help him.

We are fine and in a good place for days at a time. I can never see it coming but it could be a word, an event anything that seems to trigger the argumentative moods. Once I literally said "uh oh" and he started yelling and lecturing me. I first thought if I keep quiet during these times it would be better but when I do that he gets upset that I'm not talking or saying anything. He goes through phases of depression hopelessness and I always feel so bad but can't do anything to reach him. Then all the sudden he is accusing me of something completely random or says he doesn't trust me when I have been nothing but supportive and trustworthy. It makes me sad because I love him but the relationship is so unstable. He gets mad because I say he creates arguments out the blue and he does. Once we were around a friends house having a good time, being flirting and loving each other. He said he wanted to go outside and smoke and just like that his mood and tone changed and he was starting telling me about something I said or did that wasn't a bit serious. Like saying Uh oh or making a joke. I'm all out of options.

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