Why is it difficult to care for a loved one with bipolar disorder?

Muffy Walker
Mental Health Nursing
As caregivers of someone with the disorder, we need to be aware that just as with so many other illnesses, the symptoms of bipolar disorder range broadly within a spectrum. Although one person may be psychotic (loss of touch with reality) or a danger to himself (one in five children with bipolar disorder will kill themselves before the age of 18), another may be relatively high functioning, attend regular school, and hold a meaningful job. Think Rachmaninoff, Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh, and Carrie Fisher. All are highly successful, extremely creative people, all who have/had bipolar disorder. Caring for someone with bipolar disorder can be especially difficult given the nature of the disorder. 

Not only is healthcare coverage more limited than for other illnesses, there is the issue of getting someone to treatment when he or she may not want to go. A person who is in a manic phase (up) may refuse to seek treatment and may even discontinue his medication. The medications are powerful and have unpleasant side effects. Someone in a depressed phase (down) may feel so helpless and worthless that getting help seems not to be an option. Furthermore, most of the medications used to treat bipolar disorder are powerful, have unpleasant side effects and may thwart their "high" feelings. Because there is not yet a cure for bipolar disorder, these medications must be taken for life, which is a scary prospect for most people.

For caregivers, coping with someone with bipolar disorder takes a heavy emotional toll and strains the relationship, often to the breaking point. An added burden is the stigma of mental illness, which leaves families feeling frightened and isolated, unaware that many other families share their experience.

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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.