How to deal with a person with bipolar disorder

Written by lisa mooney
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How to deal with a person with bipolar disorder
People with bipolar disorder may exhibit depressed and manic phases (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects not only the patient but also those who are close to him. People who experience bipolar disorder may exhibit volatile behaviour and depressed and manic phases that may put stress on relationships with family and friends. It is important to show sensitive responses towards people who are diagnosed with this challenging mood disorder.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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  1. 1

    Communicate honestly with a person who has bipolar disorder. Ask how you can help him and request that he responds to you with similar honesty. Also remember that when people experience bipolar mood swings, they may say or do things that they do not really mean as it is the mental illness that is controlling them.

  2. 2

    Accept that your friend, colleague or family member is mentally ill rather than denying it or trying to hide the fact. Openness is essential to ensure that the illness is treated and properly managed.

  3. 3

    Encourage the bipolar person to take her medication as prescribed and to seek therapy for the disorder. Maintain a positive manner that does not employ threats or incessant nagging. If you live with a bipolar person who resists treatment, you may choose to describe possible consequences of this choice, which may include a change of residence.

  4. 4

    Join a support group for friends and family of people who experience mental illness. Discuss your experiences and listen to the concerns of others in similar situations. Let your mentally ill loved one know that you are attending support groups to emphasise your commitment to his welfare.

  5. 5

    Ask yourself whether a particular mood or action that is taken by the ill person is a symptom of her mental illness to help justify the way you treat the person. For example, it is important to avoid overreaction to your loved one's short-term irritable mood or to immediately assume that her medication is not working.

  6. 6

    Adopt a firm stand against violent behaviour. This includes self-abuse, violence towards others and any destruction of property. Let your loved one know the consequences of violent behaviour.

  7. 7

    Remain aware of potential warning signs of suicidal behaviour, such as withdrawal, lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, donation of personal possessions, discussions about death and threats of suicide.

Tips and warnings

  • Avoid blaming an individual for his mental illness and accept that his negative behaviours result from a disorder that is beyond his control.
  • Resist the impulse to control the bipolar person's actions. Though your loved one is ill, you cannot make all her decisions for her, especially if she is over the age of 18.
  • Abstain from drinking alcohol when with the bipolar person and request that he do the same. Alcohol has mood-altering effects and can worsen symptoms of mental illness.

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