The Family’s Role in Supporting Bipolar Disorder

The Family's Role in Supporting Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health diagnosis that 2.8% of the United States population had in the past year. Approximately 4.4% of American adults have experienced the disorder at some point in their lives. When a family member is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it often affects everyone in the household. Living with a bipolar family member can be challenging at times, so it’s important to recognize the family’s role in supporting this individual. From treatment to education and communication, here’s how the family can help a loved one with bipolar disorder.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Its Impact on Family Members

The effects of bipolar on families vary, depending on which member of the family unit is living with bipolar disorder. For parents of children with bipolar disorder, challenges can include dealing with unusual or dangerous behaviors during a manic or depressive episode. For children of bipolar parents, experiencing financial stresses within the household may become common due to lack of income or reckless spending during mania or hypomania. Other experiences family members living in a household with a bipolar loved one may have include:

  • Feelings of distress, worry or grief
  • Guilt when feeling impatient or annoyed with the person
  • Disruption of daily routines
  • Difficulty trusting or relying on someone

While it can be challenging for families to maintain open communication and work through a bipolar disorder diagnosis, it’s absolutely possible with support from a professional family therapist.

Encouraging Treatment and Medication Adherence

Family members can help a loved one with bipolar disorder by encouraging them to seek the professional treatment they need. If the individual doesn’t have a diagnosis yet but their symptoms indicate they may have a condition such as bipolar disorder, supportively guiding them to a health care professional can be life-changing. Never passing judgment on treatment practices, such as attending therapy sessions or asking what was discussed in them, is another way family members can be encouraging. Respecting the individual’s right to privacy while still being interested in their well-being is a delicate balance.

Family members can also encourage medication adherence, since up to 95% of people with bipolar disorder require professional treatment of some kind. Gentle reminders for the person to take their medication daily can be helpful.

Developing Communication and Coping Strategies When Living with a Bipolar Family Member

It’s undeniable that when you live with a family member with bipolar disorder, there will be challenging periods to navigate. Whether it’s a manic or a depressive episode, the family supporting the loved one should know how they’ll approach the situation before it occurs. Developing communication and coping strategies is a key part of supporting a family member with bipolar disorder.

Be Open About the Diagnosis

Families can be supportive of a bipolar disorder diagnosis by not being afraid to speak factually about the condition. Treating it like something that’s taboo or shouldn’t be discussed may instill feelings of shame or guilt in your loved one. Instead, let them know you’re always there to help and support them and not afraid to discuss the topic with them.

Note Warning Signs or Triggers

Bipolar disorder triggers are different for everyone. It might be changes in the season, lack of sleep, stress, trauma or a change in medication that triggers a manic or depressive episode. Family members living with someone who has bipolar disorder can support their loved ones by taking note of patterns in behavior. If certain events or factors seem to repeatedly trigger an episode, learn to anticipate the behavior or work to minimize the risk of triggers within the home.

Put a Plan in Place

Family members can support a loved one with bipolar disorder by discussing a plan for when a manic or depressive episode occurs. Knowing what actions will be taken to minimize the risk of reckless behavior during a manic episode or support a loved one through a depressive episode can provide comfort and stability.

Prioritize Caring for Yourself

When living with a family member who has bipolar disorder, it’s important to prioritize self-care. Family members shouldn’t overlook their own needs or risk their own mental health in the process of supporting a loved one.

Providing a Supportive and Stable Home Environment

Another important aspect of the family’s role in supporting bipolar disorder is providing a home environment that feels safe and stable. Studies suggest that maintaining a daily routine can help with mood regulation. When a loved one with bipolar disorder feels safe in the home and has a stable day-to-day experience so they can anticipate events rather than react to them, they may be more capable of managing or avoiding triggers. Things family members in the home can do to provide stability include:

  • Respecting set sleeping schedules
  • Having regular daily mealtimes
  • Keeping elements of the home environment the same, such as furniture
  • Encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle
  • Avoiding hosting overstimulating social events or unexpected parties inside the home that the person isn’t prepared for or can’t opt out of

Educating Family Members and Friends About Bipolar Disorder

Family members play a role in educating others about their loved one’s diagnosis and lifestyle changes. This is especially important if your loved one is an adolescent or uncomfortable discussing bipolar disorder. Sharing educational resources with other family members and friends, plus doing research of your own to learn about the condition, is a great way to be supportive.

With the right information, relatives can offer help for parents of bipolar members, such providing a bipolar teenager with a ride to a therapy appointment while their parents are at work.

Practicing Self-Care and Empowering the Person With Bipolar Disorder

Finally, the most important part of the family’s role in supporting bipolar disorder is taking care of themselves while empowering their loved ones. Always listen to the person’s opinions or needs and be respectful. Encourage treatment and be open to conversation, but allow them privacy if they don’t want to discuss something. Don’t lose sight of your own well-being, and prioritize your own mental health.

If you or a loved one is living with bipolar disorder, professional support is available at Restore Mental Health in Florida. Call our team of counselors today to learn more.