Helping a Loved One with Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses are sometimes called “no casserole” diseases. Meaning that when someone is diagnosed with a physical health condition like cancer, people are quick to show their support by bringing casseroles and helping out in other ways. But this usually doesn’t happen when someone is diagnosed with a mental illness.

Maybe this is partly because people aren’t sure what to do or how they can help. Well it’s not that different than if they were suffering from a physical illness: be there for them, listen, and offer to help with things they need getting done. Bringing a casserole or meal would probably be appreciated as well.

We asked our volunteers who live with bipolar disorder for more suggestions of things they have found helpful. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Listen without judging or trying to fix the problem

It can be hard to listen without offering advice, but sometimes being heard is more important than fixing the problem. If this concept is difficult to understand, read this article which explains it in more detail.

2. Let them know you are available to talk when they need to

It’s comforting to know that you are there, even if the person doesn’t feel like talking at the moment.

3. Ask what they need help with

Sometimes what seems like a simple task can be daunting and overwhelming. Offer to help with dishes or dinner to lighten their workload. Or maybe they need helping picking their kids up from school, ask to see what you can help with.

4. Take them out for coffee, encourage them to do things together out of the house

Sometimes people with bipolar disorder, depression in particular, can isolate themselves. Try to find something they enjoy that you can do together, like getting a bite to eat, going to the movies, or going for a walk outside.

5. Continue inviting them to do things together

Keep inviting them even if they decline your invitation. Social anxiety or other reasons might keep them from showing up, but they will appreciate being included.

6. Understand when they need some space or alone time

Sometimes people need some time by themselves, and it doesn’t mean they are mad at you. Try not to take it personally and respect their space.

7. Offer to go to a support group with them

Especially if they have never been to a support group before, they might be nervous about going by themselves. It might be easier to go if they have a trusted friend with them. And even if they don’t want you to go with them, they will likely appreciate that you offered.

8. Reassure them that they are still fully valid participants of society

Let them know that their lives have meaning. The illness does not define them and should not limit them.

9. Be supportive of their treatment plan

Even if it’s not the same treatment plan you would choose for yourself.

10. Educate yourself about bipolar disorder

The more you learn, the better you will be able to understand and communicate about it.