How Can A Family Support Their Child or Loved One Living with Bipolar Disorder?

Author: Dr. DeeAnn Wong, IBPF’s Medical Director

The role of the family is crucial to guide someone towards and help them maintain wellness and stability. However, it can often be hard to know the best ways to help care for your child or loved one. While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some tips from our Medical Director, Dr. DeeAnn Wong:

How can a family be supportive of their child living with bipolar disorder?

  • Keep a regular, predictable daily schedule
  • Keep regular bedtimes and wake up times, especially for teens who tend to stay up later at night
  • Avoid staying up overnight during sleepovers because this can worsen cycling
  • Encourage at least 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day.  This includes walking, playing frisbee, tossing a football around, etc.
  • Limit screen time to no more than 2 hours per day
  • Limit energy drinks and caffeine to no more than 1-2x/week
  • Check in with them each day to see how they are doing.  Bedtime for younger kids tends to work well.  For older kids, sometimes talking in the car works because nobody is expected to make eye contact with each other. Mealtimes are another opportunity to check in.
  • Invite them out to run errands and do activities outside of the house, even if they turn you down.
  • Keep an open ear and let them vent.
  • Listen for comments that hint at hopelessness and/or suicidality.  If they behave in a way that is not physically safe towards themselves, property or others, then bring them to the ER.  If they refuse to go, call 911.
  • Make sure they are taking all their medications correctly.
  • Give hugs if your kid is the huggy type.

To learn more about the role of the family in pediatric bipolar disorder, check out our webinar: Suicide Risk & Prevention in Pediatric Bipolar Disorder: The Role of the Family, presented by Dr. Sally Weinstein.

How Can a Family Support their Loved One Living with Bipolar Disorder?

  • Ask their loved one how they can be helpful.  What is helpful for one person may not be for another.
  • Check in with them on a regular basis, especially if they are struggling.
  • Invite them for activities or a meal.  Don’t get discouraged if they turn you down.  Keep inviting.  Sometimes the invite is enough for them to know you care, and that they are not alone.
  • Offer to run errands, get food, fill their car w/ gas, take their kids off their hands for a few hours.
  • Be aware that people tend to get the most support in the time immediately following a crisis (initial few days-weeks) but the time after that (months-years) can be when they need you just as much.
  • Try not to “tell” the person what to do.  Sometimes this can come off as judgmental or bossy without meaning to.
  • Be available to just listen and let them vent.  You do not have to “fix” their situation.
  • Avoid statements like “well, I felt the same way when……” because this can be off-putting
  • If they are making statements about suicide and they won’t call their psychiatrist or go to the ER, call 911.  They may become furious with you but you may end up saving their life.


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