Bipolar Disorder (Supporting Your Loved Ones)

When your loved one is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there may be a couple of questions that run through your mind. The first question, “What is Bipolar?” and the second question, “What is my role when things start to unravel?” Furthermore, for many people who have been diagnosed with this specific disorder,

becoming fearful, confused, and having no concrete plan on how to manage the next episode can dominate one’s thoughts. These thoughts are not easily subsided as a result of difficulty processing information in a healthy fashion at those times. However, there are ways that can help reduce the stress, stigma, and fear while living with bipolar. There are also things that you, as their loved one, can do to become a part of their supportive network.

To acquire a better understanding, it’s imperative to know bipolar is classified as a disorder of the brain and that there are two types. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, 5th Edition, the two types of bipolar are:

  • Bipolar I – manic episode, major depressive episode, lasting for at least 1 week
  • Bipolar II – hypomanic episode, major depressive episode, lasting for at least 4 consecutive days

Simply put, having bipolar I or bipolar II means a fluctuation of a person’s mood, causing dysregulation which results in extreme highs and extreme lows. Moderately elevated highs may also be called hypomania. These episodes may result in hospitalization at times. You may be wondering, “What does a manic/hypomanic episode entail?” and “What does a major depressive episode look like?” To help you recognize the signs and symptoms when your loved one is having a manic/hypomanic or depressive episode, the National Alliance on Mental Illness lists the type of symptoms to look for:

Manic/hypomanic episode: (*manic episode last for 1 week, hypomanic last for 4 days*)

  • Either an elated, happy mood, or an irritable, angry, unpleasant mood
  • Increased physical and mental activity and energy
  • Racing thoughts and flights of ideas that may be unrelated
  • Increased talking and rapid speech
  • Ambitious/grandiose plans
  • Engaging in high risk activities that could potentially result in severe consequences
  • Impulsive behaviors (Spending sprees, sexual behaviors, alcohol abuse)
  • Decreased need for sleep

Depressed episode:

  • Loss of energy
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Decreased activity and energy
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Increased feelings of worry and anxiety
  • Loss of interest
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Decreased/increase in appetite
  • Decreased/increase sleep patterns

After recognizing the signs and symptoms of bipolar, knowing your role in supporting your loved one can be confusing. However, once a plan is created by both you and your loved one, managing an episode can be less stressful and prompt you to become proactive versus becoming reactive.

Being proactive means:

  • Using empathy, understanding and compassionate support
  • Accepting the disorder and remembering to separate behaviors/symptoms of the disorder from the person themselves
  • Becoming aware of triggers (Observing unusual behaviors such as an elevated mood and risky behaviors. Write down frequency, duration, and intensity of symptoms. All symptoms may not look the same for everyone)
  • Developing specific plans as to who will do what when these triggers are observed
    • Regularly communicating with psychologist, physician, therapist, family members (Gather names, numbers, addresses, treatment plans)
  • Medication management
  • Checking for alcohol and drug use (Due to amplifying symptoms and tendency to self-medicate at those times)
  • Encouraging an appropriate sleep schedule with consistent sleep/wake times and minimum of 8-10 hours of sleep

It is our hope at The Behavioral Wellness Group to provide ways to educate the public on mental health, specifically when it comes to complex disorders such as bipolar. We also offer Intensive Outpatient Programs, Medication Management and Outpatient Therapy Services. If you are looking to gather more information on mental disorders, ways to support your loved ones or to seek individual therapy services/intensive outpatient programming/medication management, feel free to contact The Behavioral Wellness Group at 440-392-2222.

Ikeshia Smith, MSSA LISW
Psychology Trainee
The Behavioral Wellness Group