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How can I care for a loved one with bipolar disorder?

There are several things that friends and family can do when someone they know is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. They can:
  • help them get a correct diagnosis
  • learn about the disorder and what it will take to make them better
  • help them through the manic phase of the disorder, which can be a highly stressful experience
  • help them through the difficult to treat depressive phase of the disorder
  • help them to recognize the warning signs, signals and symptoms of a relapse by tracking the moods of the person
Muffy Walker
Mental Health Nursing
Here are some tips for caring for a loved one with bipolar disorder:
  • Educate yourself. Visit websites for downloadable educational brochures, videos, other web links, and suggested reading.
  • Seek treatment from a reputable, board certified psychiatrist. Ask for referrals from your pediatrician, friends and mental health organizations. As a family caregiver, you can help by scheduling appointments, keeping track of medications and making sure they are taken as prescribed, and report any mood changes to the clinicians.
  • Meet with your loved one's clinician. Although clinicians are bound by laws of confidentiality, you can ask to go with your family member to the appointment.
  • Establish an atmosphere where symptoms, medications and concerns can be discussed freely. Understanding the early phases of the illness will help everyone seek appropriate help when it is needed. Sometimes, those with bipolar illness aren't aware when they are depressed or manic, although it is quite obvious to the caregiver. Pointing out when it is time to see the doctor or re-evaluate the medication needs to be done in an open, accepting way. Watch for triggers, and watch the behavior for clues of an upcoming change of mood or frame of mind. You are in the best position to recognize this.
  • Consider a contract that you and your loved one with bipolar disorder agree on when he or she is calm, stable, and lucid. If the person is 18 years of age or over, you will generally not be able to learn much about his treatment because of HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Write out a statement describing agreed-upon treatment plans that you can show to your loved one when he or she is no longer rational or is refusing treatment.
  • Learn what services are available from your school, community, church, and government.
  • Prepare a resource list, even if you don't think you need the service, (example) Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) in your area.
  • Enlist support and build a network. This is extremely important, not only to help you with the day-to-day stressors and limit your isolation, but also to learn what is "normal."

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.