How to Help Someone Suffering With Bipolar Disorder

Three Parts:Communicating EffectivelyPreparing for Different Situations that May AriseBeing There for Your Friend

Living with bipolar disorder can be extremely trying on a person's relationships with their friends and family. Struggling with difficult emotions or manic episodes is difficult, but it's even more difficult without the support of a good friend. Helping your friend with bipolar disorder requires patience and understanding, but remember to treat yourself with the same care and respect you provide your friend. If you are concerned that your friend may be a risk to themselves or others, get them help immediately.

Part 1
Communicating Effectively

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    Speak openly to each other. Helping your friend with bipolar disorder will require that the two of you communicate honestly and openly. Dealing with emotional disorders can be just as trying for friendships as it is for each individual.[1]
    • Let your friend know when you’re worried about them by telling them so.
    • Speak to your friend in private and say something like, “I’ve noticed that you have been acting differently lately, is there anything going on?” You may also want to identify behaviors your find troubling like, “when you don’t take my calls for a few days I start to worry, is everything okay?”
    • It’s okay to get on each other’s nerves, but make it clear to your friend that you care about him or her.
    • Express your feelings and concerns in a caring way.
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    Respect your friend’s need for time alone. Bipolar disorder can be difficult to manage, and sometimes the emotional difficulties of the condition may drive your friend to seek some time alone. Respect your friend’s need to be alone sometimes so they can decompress.[2]
    • Everyone needs some time to themselves occasionally. Your friend may be tired of trying to manage their feelings around people and simply need to relax.
    • If you are worried that your friend may hurt themselves, don’t leave them alone.
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    Listen without passing judgement or trying to solve problems. Sometimes your friend may just need a sympathetic ear. Listen to what your friend has to say without judging them or the situation. Don’t simply offer up solutions to every issue that arises either.[3]
    • Sometimes your friend may just need someone they can vent to without having to workshop possible solutions to what’s bothering them.
    • Simply listening can help validate your friend’s feelings and help them feel more in control and understood.
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    Identify when your friend needs help. If your friend’s bipolar disorder is going untreated, you may want to keep an eye out for warning signs that your friend’s condition may make them a danger to themselves or others. Even if your friend is undergoing treatment, you should still be aware of signs that your friend’s condition is worsening.[4]
    • If your friend starts experiencing issues with sleep, increased activity and irritability, they may be beginning to relapse or their condition may be worsening.
    • If your friend begins sleeping much more or is lethargic, they may be experiencing depression instead of a manic episode, and still may need to seek help.
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    Avoid clichéd platitudes. Having bipolar disorder is often a burden people carry for their entire lives. During that time, they are often exposed to clichéd suggestions or pieces of advice. Avoid falling into that same trap.[5]
    • Giving common and generalized recommendations like, “just look for the silver lining” or “cheer up” is ineffective and may do the opposite of helping your friend feel better.
    • Using “canned” responses to your friend’s real problems can make him or her feel increasingly isolated and alone because they don’t have someone that understands what they’re going through.
    • Instead using canned responses, try saying something like, “I know this is hard on you, but you’re doing really well,” or, “I’ve never experienced something like that, can you tell me how it makes you feel?”

Part 2
Preparing for Different Situations that May Arise

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    Make a plan for the bad times. Remember that when someone with bipolar disorder experiences a manic episode, they may believe things that aren’t true, say things that they don’t mean or become increasingly aggressive.[6]
    • You may want to help your friend negotiate a treatment contract while he or she is doing well.
    • A treatment contract gives you the power to take steps to protect your friend if they need it like contacting their doctor or helping them check in for treatment.
    • Create a plan ahead of time for what you will do if your friend is going through a manic episode that requires your intervention.
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    Be aware of potential problems in the good times. Bipolar disorder does not only require management when experiencing emotional lows. The onset of manic episodes can often include being extremely outgoing, cheerful and enthusiastic. Keep an eye out for destructive behavior that seems driven by positivity.[7]
    • It is not uncommon for someone experiencing a manic episode to spend significant sums of money, including money they do not have.
    • Drinking and drugs can worsen the situation for people suffering bipolar disorder, even if they seem like they’re just trying to “have a good time.”
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    Learn the warning signs of suicidal ideations. Suicide can be a significant risk for those suffering from bipolar disorder, so always take warning signs that your friend may be considering suicide seriously. Your actions could save your friend’s life.[8]
    • Learn to identify the warning signs that your friend may be considering suicide.
    • Some common warning signs are increasing alcohol or drug use, acting withdrawn, or talking about a sense of hopelessness. If your friend seems to lose interest in things that used to interest them, that may also indicate that they are considering suicide.
    • If you think your friend may be considering suicide, find them help and don’t leave your friend alone.
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    Make a plan for children or loved ones. If your friend has children or is responsible for someone’s care, you should make a plan to keep them safe and cared for in the event of your friend experiencing a manic episode.[9]
    • Plan for children to stay with someone else while your friend works through the more difficult stages of a manic episode.
    • Make sure children understand the nature of the situation and that your friend loves them.
    • Clarify that the situation is not the children’s fault to ensure they don’t feel as though they caused a negative situation to arise.

Part 3
Being There for Your Friend

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    Be Patient. Suffering from bipolar disorder can be extremely frustrating, and the nature of the illness can make managing those feelings difficult at times. The first step to helping a friend with bipolar disorder is to be patient with them.[10]
    • If your friend is undergoing treatment, it may take time for it to make a difference. Being patient can help your friend maintain their own patience for the process to work.
    • If your friend is not seeking treatment, be patient with them as you encourage them to do so. Losing your patience will only make the situation worse, instead of better.
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    Encourage your friend to seek treatment. Bipolar disorder is a real medical condition that requires treatment in order to be managed effectively. If your friend does not want to seek medical treatment for their disorder, encourage them to reconsider.[11]
    • Acknowledging that bipolar disorder is not anyone’s fault and is indeed an illness is a good step toward seeking medical treatment.
    • Bipolar disorder can get worse if left untreated.
    • If you aren’t sure how to bring it up in conversation, take your friend aside and in private and say something like, “I know you’ve been having a hard time. Have you thought about seeing if a doctor could help?”
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    Accept your friend’s limits. Having bipolar disorder creates limitations your friend must live with, and in order to effectively help them it’s important that you understand and respect them as well. A person suffering from bipolar disorder cannot simply “snap out of it” when experiencing a low stage or a manic episode.[12]
    • A person with bipolar disorder cannot always control their emotions or the way those emotions make them act.
    • Suggesting that a person stop feeling a certain way or that they should “look on the bright side” will not help someone with bipolar disorder.
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    Acknowledge your own limits. You must treat yourself with the same level of respect and understanding that you provide your friend. That means understanding and respecting your own limitations as well as those of your friend.[13]
    • It’s okay to get frustrated at times, but try not to take those frustrations out on your friend. Instead, take a time out and separate yourself from the situation.
    • Don’t expect too much from yourself. You are there to help your friend, but ultimately your friend will need to make the hard decisions for his or herself.
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    Educate yourself about bipolar disorder. It may help if you develop a better understanding of bipolar disorder and what it entails. This may help you to deal with situations as they arise as well as providing you a means by which to empathize with your friend.[14]
    • Do research online to learn more about bipolar disorder at websites like
    • If your friend has not been diagnosed, learn how to identify the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
    • Remember that each person suffers from bipolar disorder in a different way, so if your friend does not exhibit symptoms exactly as you’ve researched, that may just be a part of their situation.

Article Info

Categories: Bipolar Disorder | Neurological Disorders