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5 Things to Know for Supporting a Loved One Living with Bipolar Disorder

Your patience and understanding will make all the difference in your loved one’s bipolar disorder treatment and recovery—these tried and true tips can help you be their source of empowerment and strength.

If you have a friend, family member or partner who has bipolar disorder, you may feel that many days are an intense and unpredictable challenge. You are not alone. While it’s often not easy, your love, support and perseverance can have a tremendous impact on your loved one’s treatment, stability—and quality of life.

  1. Bipolar is a Spectrum. Bipolar disorder symptoms can be felt on a variety of levels. No two people experience bipolar disorder in the same way, and there are a handful of different diagnoses under the bipolar umbrella. Understanding how the symptoms of this condition can vary can help you comprehend what your loved one is going through and can allow you to guide them through the treatment process that is best for them.
  2. Words matter. Positive and empowering words can make all the difference in bipolar disorder treatment. Especially when someone living with bipolar experiences a setback or relapse, it’s important to remind them that you are there for them and you are proud of the efforts they are making. You also want to make sure you let your loved one know while you cannot fully grasp the severity of their symptoms, you are willing to learn as much as you can and lend an ear whenever they would like someone to hear them out.
  3. Attitude is everything. You are a source of positivity and strength to your loved one, in a world where they are often confronted with isolating stigma. It may be difficult but be patient and don’t expect your loved one to find a quick fix for stability—managing symptoms is a lifelong journey. Remind yourself not to take all actions fueled by symptoms personally. It can also help to constantly tell your friend, family member or partner that you truly believe in them, and you are there to help in any way you can—such as by monitoring their moods, supporting them through a crisis, setting up appointments, and tracking their progress.
  4. You Can Step Back. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness that is a brain-based—and not anyone’s fault, so don’t feel like you have to “save” a person with bipolar from their diagnosis. You also cannot force your loved one to follow through with their treatment and wellness plans. Ultimately their recovery is up to them.
  5. Take care of your own health. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s important that you don’t forget about your own life goals and priorities, as well as your other relationships. Find time for your favorite hobbies, manage stress by getting enough exercise and sleep—and remember, it’s always OK to ask for help.

You don’t have to have all of the answers to make a difference in someone’s life—it just takes genuine concern and acceptance. Bipolar disorder is an incredibly difficult brain-based illness to live with, so it’s also important to always show your loved one the respect they deserve and to remain hopeful. As the late Carrie Fisher once said, “At times, [having] bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”


Shannon Hazlitt Harts is a Social Media Specialist for bp Magazine for bipolar disorder and esperanza “hope” for depression magazine. She helps manage award-winning blogs on bphope.com and hopetocope.com. You can follow bp Magazine on Facebook and on Twitter.