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Caring for Someone with Bipolar Disorder

By Julie Totten

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Here are ways that you can help someone with bipolar disorder:

Become educated. The first step is to become educated about bipolar disorder, so you have realistic expectations and coping options. There are books, brochures, and videos on a variety of topics. We have Family Profiles, (stories of people who cope with bipolar disorder), a brochure, and other resources on our web site,

Make this is a family matter. Acknowledge that one memberís depressive disorder affects the entire family. Everyone in your immediate family needs to learn about bipolar disorder, its symptoms and early warning signs, how it is treated, and what the side effects of medications may be. And to whatever degree possible, each member should participate in the caregiving process.  Being a caregiver is stressful, and it is important that family members discuss their feelings and opinions. Sometimes it helps if a skilled family therapist facilitates these discussions in group sessions.

Be a partner in treatment. Find the right treatment for each individual bipolar sufferer usually means going through a process of trial and error with multiple different medications. Patients also need talk therapy to heal. Finding qualified clinicians (e.g., psychopharmacologist, psychiatrist, psychologist) is essential.  As a family caregiver, you can help by finding the best clinicians in your area, scheduling appointments, keeping track of medications and making sure they are taken as prescribed, and being an early warning systems by reporting changes to the clinicians.

Meet with the patientís clinician. Make sure to meet with the clinician treating your family member from time to time. Try to go with your family member and if needed, set up some appointments on your own. Although clinicians have to maintain patient confidentiality, they can listen to you and you can report issues you are having caring for your family member.

Be understanding. Let your family member with bipolar disorder continually know that you care. People with bipolar disorder have negative thoughts and are hopeless in a depressive state. They need to be reminded that you and others are concerned about them and that you are working together to help them get well.

Take care of yourself. Set healthy boundaries on how much you do so you donít burn out. Take a vacation from caregiving from time to time. Many caregivers develop depression, so donít be afraid to seek medical help for yourself. You also may need help processing and dealing with your emotions.

Find social support. Dealing with bipolar disorder can be lonely and isolating. Youíve watched the healthy person you once knew deteriorate and suffer. Your friends donít understand bipolar disorder, and it is difficult for you to go out. Make sure you find sources of support such as a bipolar support group in your area.

Develop a crisis plan. Talk to your family member with bipolar disorder about what you will do if the person becomes manic or suicidal. For example, some people with bipolar disorder and their families decide that it is best for the person with bipolar disorder not to use credit cards. Also, determine what you will do if you need to hospitalize the person. Put your plan in writing.

Have hope. Remember that in most cases, bipolar disorder is treatable and can be stabilized. The condition is usually cyclical, so be prepared for it to worsen and/or improve at times. Finding the right treatment can be a drawn out process, but in time, a solution will be found.


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