A few of my friends who know that I have been diagnosed with bipolar have come to ask for advice on how to help someone they know, someone who seems to be going off the rails.
Recently an ex-colleague asked about how to engage a friend who has stopped taking his medication. She was concerned because his mood swings were still evident and he had been starting numerous projects without finishing them.
I am glad this person has a friend who cares enough to ask so this blog post is dedicated to all those who have wanted to help, but didn’t know how. I hope my thoughts on how to broach the topic of medication are useful in some measure.
1. If they have taken meds and want to stop/have gone off it, do seek to understand their experience with the meds instead of immediately suggesting that they should keep taking/go back to taking meds.
Ask open-ended questions like:
- Why did you start taking medication?
- How did you feel taking them?
- What improvement did you notice?
- What were the side effects that affected you most?
- What does your doctor say?
This will help your friend to see that you care about their reality and not just trying to get them to go back on medication. Medication is only one part of the toolkit, it is vitally important to have a supportive community in the journey of recovery. By seeking to understand, you are helping them to feel that they have support.
2. If they are wary of starting medication, help them to process through their concerns
Find out more about the different types of medication available. Read through the side effects and see if you can be supportive in helping to reduce the impact of the effects. E.g. if weight gain is a concern, offer to exercise with them. It can be as simple as a walk once a week but it will be a very important show of support. Offer to cook healthy meals together. Join a beginners’ dance class. Be creative.
3. In both cases, encourage them to find the right medication/the right doctor.
I changed doctors twice before I found someone that I felt I could communicate well with. I also discussed medication changes with my doctor, eventually cutting down on a second type of mood stabiliser that was making me excessively sleepy. When I went off this medication, it was helpful to know that I could count on good friends to flag to me if they notice behaviour that suggest I may be heading for a relapse. That way, if warning signs come up, I can quickly consider whether I need to go back on the medication.