Bipolar disorder is a diagnosable mental health disorder that affects many people. In fact, bipolar disorder has been diagnosed in more than 2 million adults in the United States, and researchers believe the number of Americans who have bipolar disorder is even higher. However, there are things we can do to help support those who experience bipolar disorder.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by intense mood changes, thought processes, and behaviors. The changes in mood can be intense and severe and include patterns of mania and patterns of depression. The 5 types of bipolar disorder are bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, bipolar disorder “unspecified” and bipolar disorder “otherwise specified”. While there are differences among the types of bipolar disorder, they all encompass symptoms of both mania and depression.
Symptoms of mania include:
- Racing thoughts.
- Fast talking.
- Decreased need for sleep.
- Thinking and trying to do many things at one time.
- Excessive behaviors such as eating, sex, and drug and alcohol use.
- Risky behaviors such as fast driving and overspending.
- Feeling wired or jumpy.
- Thoughts of grandiosity, such as thoughts about being the leader of a country and exaggerating your talents and achievements.
- Psychosis such as hallucinations (seeing things that don’t exist) and delusions (thinking you can read other people’s minds).
Symptoms of depression include:
- Low energy and lack of motivation.
- Increased sleep.
- Increased appetite and weight gain.
- Difficulty performing normal day-to-day tasks such as showering, doing dishes, and going to work.
- Feeling hopeless.
- Thoughts of death and suicide.
5 Things We Can Do to Show Support
1. Remind Yourself that the Behaviors are Symptoms of a Disorder, Not A Personality Trait
Bipolar disorder can impact a person’s behavior and, oftentimes, the behaviors can present negatively. For example, excessive spending, drug and alcohol use, and difficulty adhering to work and personal responsibilities can all be symptoms of bipolar disorder. While difficult to experience and accept at times, these behaviors are not character flaws but are symptoms of a person’s mental health disorder. Work on recognizing that these behaviors are symptoms of an illness and not reflective of a person’s personality or intentions.
2. Take Care of Yourself
If you love someone or care for someone who has a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, be sure to take care of your own physical, mental, and spiritual needs. Engage in pleasurable activities, take breaks throughout your day, eat well, and get adequate rest. This can also include attending support groups and seeking therapy for yourself. You’ve heard the adage about taking care of yourself so that you can support and care for others; this is certainly true when helping someone experiencing mental illness.
3. Make a Plan for Manic Episodes
When your loved one is in a healthy emotional place (not experiencing an episode of mania or depression), discuss the plan for a manic episode. This can look like creating a schedule, identifying healthy creative outlets for energy, and helping with finances and spending. You can start the conversation by asking the person “what would be helpful to you when you notice yourself experiencing symptoms of mania” or “what can I do to help you effectively manage your symptoms when you experience a manic episode?”.
4. Discuss Bipolar Disorder
Having a non-judgmental, listening ear can help your loved one feel supported and safe to discuss any symptoms. It may also help your loved one feel more comfortable asking for help or coming to you when symptoms of a manic or depressive episode begin to occur. It can be helpful to ask the person “How have you managed your symptoms of bipolar disorder so well?” or “What can I do to help you when you are experiencing symptoms?”.
5. Validate Your Loved One’s Thoughts and Emotions
Try to remember that your loved one experiences thoughts and emotions that feel real, even if they aren’t based on facts and reality. For example, disputing the thoughts of people with bipolar disorder and telling them to calm down when they are experiencing intense emotions can escalate symptoms. Instead, try to remain calm during these situations and recognize that their reality is true to them. A validating statement can look like “I see you are experiencing strong emotions right now and that’s okay” or “it makes sense why you think or feel that way”. This normalizes and validates their internal experience (thoughts and emotions).
If you believe you may be experiencing bipolar disorder, talk to your primary care physician and discuss whether telehealth or in-person treatment is best for you. If you have thoughts of suicide, call the national suicide crisis number at 800-273-8255. If you are considering acting on your thoughts, please call 911 or go to your local emergency department to get the support you may need. Medical and mental health professionals can help you manage these symptoms. Getting help can be as easy as contacting Valera Health. We provide psychiatric and mental health telemedicine services to help you pursue your personal journey toward wellness.