Understand that some of your family member’s behaviors are linked to the disorder. For example, a person who is chattering on about themselves selfishly or bragging is normally recognized as arrogant or self-centered. This behavior in a person with bipolar disorder is a sign of mania, as are other risky behaviors that may be equally unappealing to you. Recognizing that this is a symptom of the illness, and not an intentional behavior by your family member is helpful in understanding her condition. However, be cautious not to associate every mood your family member has with her illness; people with bipolar disorder can be mad or sad in healthy ways, too.One way you can understand your family member’s illness better and show support is to simply ask about her experience of it. Make sure, however, that you use discretion and identify if she feels comfortable talking with you about it before you attempt to engage her. If this is too threatening you could simply ask how she is doing and gain more information about what she is currently going through.
Support your family member in her mental health treatment.
Since bipolar disorder is best treated by medication and therapy, it is crucial to be supportive about your family member engaging in treatment. One way to become involved is to participate in your loved one’s psychotherapy. Family therapy can be a helpful resource in supporting an individual with bipolar disorder.Communicate with your family member’s mental healthcare provider. If your loved one has signed a release for you to speak with her therapist or doctor, you can notify that person about possible concerns or problems as they arise. You can also gain more information on how to assist your family member.
If your family member is not currently receiving mental health treatment you can encourage or help her to seek treatment. PsychologyToday.com. and the American Psychological Association (APA) are both helpful resources. You can search for therapists or psychiatrists in your area who specialize in bipolar disorder. However, be careful not to push treatment on your family member if she is reluctant (unless she is potentially harmful to herself or others); this can scare her off and disrupt your relationship.
Help monitor medication compliance. It is common for individuals with bipolar disorder to avoid taking their medication since the “high” of mania can feel good to them. If you notice that your family member has gone off her medication, the first step would be to notify her psychiatrist or general practitioner as soon as possible. Most likely the doctor will want to speak with your loved one and will inform you of how to proceed. If you are not able to speak with a doctor, you can encourage your loved one to take her medications, or provide incentives (such as special treats or doing something with her that she enjoys) if she agrees to be med-complaint.
Assist during a manic or hypomanic episode.
If you notice signs that your family member may be experiencing an episode it is crucial to engage her in harm reduction.Negotiate to reduce harm during risky behaviors (gambling, excessive spending, drug abuse, reckless driving)
Keep children, disabled people, and other vulnerable people away so that the antics do not disturb them
Speaking with your loved one’s medical health clinician, or calling an ambulance or suicide hotline if they are at risk of harming themselves or others
Plan for a crisis. It is important to have an action plan for dealing with an emergency in order to effectively deescalate a crisis situation. Have contact info of important relatives who can help, as well as doctor’s numbers and hospital addresses. Do not just store this information in your phone in case it loses battery; you should have these numbers written down and on you at all times (such as in a wallet or purse). Give a copy to your family member. You could even develop this plan together when your family member is emotionally stable.
Help your family member avoid triggers.
A trigger is a behavior or situation that may increase the likelihood of a negative outcome, in this case a manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode. Possible triggers include substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs.
Triggers can also include negative emotions such as stress, an imbalanced diet, sleep irregularities (sleeping too much or too little), and interpersonal conflicts. Your loved one will have her own specific triggers. You can help by discouraging your family member from engaging in these behaviors, or by helping her prioritize her responsibilities to reduce stress levels.Criticism and critical people are common bipolar triggers.
If you live with your family member you could remove substances such as alcohol from the home. You could also attempt to foster a relaxing environment by controlling lighting, music, and energy levels.
The more educated you become about bipolar disorder the more understanding and accepting you can be. While it may still be a challenge to cope with this disorder in the family, your concern and thoughtfulness can go a long way in supporting your family member.One way to show that you care is by simply letting your family member know that you are there for her and you want to be supportive in her recovery. You can also offer to listen to her if she wants to talk about her illness.