Coping with a Bipolar Family Member

When someone close to you is diagnosed with Bipolar disorder, it can be very scary for them; but it can also affect you. Because you are not experiencing the symptoms of the disorder yourself, it can be very hard to deal with a diagnosed loved one as you don’t know what you can do to help. It can feel frustrating when all your efforts go to waste and do nothing but aggravate the situation. It can be difficult to cope with constant mood changes and disturbances in their patterns of behavior.

It’s important to remember, however, that your love and support can help and ease the treatment process. Here’s how you can help:

Therapist holds hand of patient coping with a bipolar family member.

Understand the Disorder

The first thing you have to do is tell yourself again and again, until it is ingrained in your mind, that this is an illness. Just because it is not physically manifested does not mean it does not exist.

Your loved one is not acting out or at fault; it is something that they cannot control. You would not blame someone for having cancer, and so, you cannot blame someone for being bipolar.

The next step is to learn everything you can about the disorder and research so that you know exactly what they are going through even if you cannot feel it yourself. This will help you empathize, and allow you to recognize when they are in a state of depression or mania. It will also help you distinguish between these episodes and normal moods. Bipolar people also experience anger, happiness, sadness, and excitement in completely healthy ways, and it can be frustrating when you associate their legitimate feelings with their disorder.

Ask for Help

If a family member needed surgery, you wouldn’t perform it yourself; you would take them to a hospital. Similarly, if your bipolar family member is in the midst of an episode and attempts something like suicide, you can’t deal with it alone. You need the help of a proper therapist or doctor. Don’t leave them alone in times like these and seek professional help. When your loved one is not in the midst of an episode, negotiate a strategy for when they are in one, and plan ahead to decide what steps you will take when needed; such as hiding away car keys and credit cards, or calling the police to ensure that they don’t hurt themselves or others around them. It’s important to keep calm in these times of crises, and having a plan always helps one remain practical. Don’t take their words or actions personally, and know that they are merely symptoms of a mental illness.

Stay Patient

The most important thing you can do to help a loved one is just be there and be patient. It’s not easy to get through something like this alone, and they will need you from time to time to remind them that you’re in this together. Bipolar disorder can sometimes be a lifelong challenge, but it can be managed. Stay patient and empathizing, but don’t let the disorder take over your relationship. It’s important to think about yourself sometimes too, and not feel guilty about having a life of your own. Being there for someone, both physically and emotionally, can be a huge help and can ease the treatment considerably. Remember that they are struggling much more than you can imagine, and let them have their way from time to time.

Just the fact that you want to help a family member who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder is an indicator of the fact that you’re already supporting them subconsciously. Work together and help them get through this difficulty, and if they relapse, just let them know you’ll always love and support them.

Need an experienced therapist helping those with Bipolar disorder? Contact Jennie Marie.

Understanding Bipolar

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a psychological condition which affects your mood and creates two extremes. Your mood goes from a state of mania, where you are extremely impulsive, charged, and excitable; to a state of depression, where you feel low self-esteem, low self-worth, and are unable to get energized enough to do anything. This can be very harmful as it may interfere with a person’s daily life.

This is not to be confused with regular mood swings, as those are mild to moderate. Bipolar is extreme, and both states can be very harmful to the patient as their elevated or depressed mood can affect their perceptions, judgment, and actions, along with many other aspects of their lives.

Mania and depression may not occur evenly. Many people are more depressed and their manic periods are shorter, or may be so moderate that they are virtually indistinguishable from stabilized mood. Others may experience the opposite.

Sad woman sits alone outdoors.

Symptoms

Bipolar can affect one's quality of life when not treated properly, and if you begin to notice these symptoms in yourself, or in any of your loved ones, seek out a proper diagnosis as early detection can save them so much suffering. The symptoms are divided into those of mania (or hypomania) and those of bipolar depression.

Mania/Hypomain (symptoms lasting at least 4 days)

  •  Unusual optimism and happiness

  • Sleeping less but feeling energized

  • Talking excitedly and very fast

  • Jumping from one thought to another very quickly

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Acting impulsive and reckless

  • Grandiose and unrealistic ideas

  • Delusions and hallucinations

Depression

  • Feeling unusually irritable

  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities

  • Fatigue and loss of energy

  • Changes in weight and appetite

  • Changes in sleep pattern

  • Low self-worth and esteem problems

  • Feeling hopeless, guilty, sad, and empty

  • Inability to remember things

  • Sluggishness of thoughts and actions

  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

If you are beginning to experience any of these symptoms, or have noticed them in someone close to you, it’s time to take action.

Causes of Bipolar

There is no one factor that can be singled out as the cause of bipolar disorder, and there are number of theories and studies that suggest multiple causes for the disorder. Some people are genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, but this is not the only factor because studies with identical twins (who have the same genetic make-up) have proved that this is not always true.

Environmental and psychological occurrences, known as triggers, can cause bipolar as well. They include, but are not limited to, sleep deprivation, certain medicines, seasonal changes, trauma, stress, and substance abuse.

There are studies which document the chemical changes in the body of a diagnosed bipolar patient. Serotonin and dopamine levels, as well as other hormonal and neurotransmitter changes are sometimes thought to cause the disorder.

Living with Bipolar

People who say that bipolar disorder diminishes the quality of one’s life are wrong. Yes, having bipolar is challenging, and can lead one to do impulsive things like quit their job or take life-threatening risks; alongside suicidal thoughts and attempts. Therapy for bipolar disorder is helpful for learning to identify triggers and develop good coping skills to lessen the affects of Bipolar disorder. My clients find that when they learn to manage their symptoms properly, bipolar disorder does not prevent them from living a happy, successful, and fulfilling life.

Photo by Kyle Broad

Is Your Teen Struggling With Depression?

Teens are moody, they get sad, and they are reserved. But “depressed” is not a word to use lightly. Understand that Depression is a clinically diagnosed illness, and it may have nothing to do with outside circumstances. Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, wrote, “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstance; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.” This means that the feeling of depression is so overpowering, it feels entirely out of context to what is happening around you, and you may feel as though you are grieving when there is nothing, externally, to grieve about. The brilliant poet and author, Sylvia Plath, was successful in her career, had a beautiful young daughter, and a husband she loved, but her suicide is well-documented: she stuck her head into an oven one day and gassed herself to death. One of her most famous quotes is "Is there no way out of the mind?"

If your teenager is depressed, this is serious and requires care the way a physical illness like cancer would. Do not take depression lightly and expect your child to “snap out of it”, because that doesn’t happen.

Here’s how you can tell if your teenager is struggling with depression:

Father talks with a depressed, moody teenager who is non-responsive.

Common Symptoms

If your teenager is exhibiting certain changes in sleeping and eating patterns, irritability, uncharacteristic quietness, frequent crying, lethargy, and a general air of sadness, it’s important to keep an eye on them and document their moods and actions. If these signs persist for more than two weeks, contact a specialist who has the qualifications to correctly diagnose your child, as well as a medical practitioner who can rule out other possibilities. They may require medication, or therapy, or even a combination of both. A therapist that specializes in teen therapy can help you understand your teen and their depression.  Understanding how depression is affecting your teen can help improve your relationship. Teen therapy can help with teaching your teen how to cope with depression.

Side-Effects

Due to depression, your teen’s grades may be falling; they may lose interest in their friends and other social activities, and may be spending more and more time in isolation. Finding a new peer group, or engaging in new and dangerous activities like sneaking out are probably not signs of depression, because a depressed person has no energy to even get out of bed and dress every day. Depression, however, can lead to drug abuse or alcohol consumption in order to numb the mental anguish, and left untreated could lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. People don’t die of suicide, they die of sadness; and depression is a sadness so great it takes over every aspect of your life and grows around you like a vine.

Parents can help the most by not shrugging off depression as moodiness, and not blame themselves or their children. If you see signs of depression, talk to your teen and try to understand what they say, and also what they aren’t saying. Seek help, and just be there for your child, even if you don’t know what to do.