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Helping Yourself & Others

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Helping Yourself & Others

You can live well with bipolar disorder.

Being healthy requires managing the disease with a treatment plan that’s right for you, just as it does with other chronic diseases (diabetes, alcoholism, heart disease).

Helping yourself

The first step is getting the help you need. Bipolar disorder is a serious illness that needs to be treated by a healthcare professional. Once you’ve found a doctor to work with and your moods are stabilized, your doctor can recommend the healthy habits that will help prevent additional periods of mania or depression.

These healthy habits can go a long way to improving your well-being and quality of life. One of the keys to living well with bipolar disorder is to manage your stress well. Prolonged, excessive stress can interfere with your treatment plan and may even contribute to triggering new episodes of depression or mania. We can’t avoid all stress, but we can establish healthy habits for managing stress.

Steps doctors recommend that can help you manage your symptoms:

  • Learn everything you can about bipolar disorder; education can empower you and help you stick to your treatment plan
  • Stay on your medication, even when you’re feeling better
  • Stay in touch with your doctor on a regular basis to make sure that your treatment, including medications and their side effects, is still right for you
  • Learn your triggers and early warning signs; by paying attention and getting help, you can prevent new episodes and shorten episodes that are starting
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs, and be cautious about over-the-counter medicines and supplements—they can interact with your medication, and they may be triggers for new episodes; talk to your doctor about drug interactions
  • Join a support group; social networks reduce isolation and you can benefit from helping others
  • Establish healthy habits, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep
  • Keep a regular routine as much as possible, including eating meals at the same time every day and going to sleep and waking up at the same time
  • Stay focused on your recovery goals; step-by-step you can fix problems left over from a previous manic or depressive period
  • Realize that your symptoms will probably improve gradually
  • Create an emergency action plan for times when you may be in crisis, making poor decisions, or having suicidal thoughts; share your plan with trusted friends and family

Sources: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; Mayo Clinic; Helpguide.org

Helping someone you love

It can be hard for someone with bipolar disorder to recognize the illness in themselves. One of the most important ways you can help someone you love with bipolar disorder is to encourage them to seek help and start treatment.

Things you can do to be supportive once your loved one is in treatment:

  • Learn everything you can about bipolar disorder so you can understand what your loved one is going through
  • Encourage your loved one to get help as soon as possible; the sooner bipolar disorder is addressed, the easier it is to treat
  • Help find doctors and therapists; set up appointments and offer to go along
  • Offer encouragement and understanding
  • Be patient; recognize that recovery will take time and there may be relapses
  • Be a good listener, and learn what triggers symptoms in your loved one
  • Plan activities you enjoy together; social contact and recreation reduce stress and promote well-being
  • Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, she will get better
  • Encourage your loved one to stick with treatment, including staying on medications and seeing the doctor regularly
  • Watch for progress as well as early warning signs of a relapse and give your loved one feedback so that he can make good decisions and choices

Helpful things to say (from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance):

  • You are not alone in this; I'm here for you
  • I understand you have a real illness and that's what causes these thoughts and feelings
  • You may not believe it now, but the way you're feeling will change
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help
  • You are important to me; your life is important to me
  • You’re not to blame for bipolar disorder; you didn’t cause it; it’s not your fault
  • You can feel better; there are many treatments that can help

Sources: National Institute on Mental Health; Helpguide.org; Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Support for families and caregivers

If someone close to you has bipolar disorder, it affects you too, especially if it is someone in your immediate family. The withdrawal of depression and the recklessness of mania are very hard on families. You may have to cope with the consequences of your loved one’s behavior during a depressive or manic episode. You may also be in the role of caregiver, helping to track the condition’s progress, watching for signs of a relapse, and managing medications.

Ways to take care of yourself and your family when someone you love is suffering from bipolar disorder:

  • Don’t take bipolar symptoms personally; people in a manic or depressive episode may do hurtful things
  • Plan what to do in a crisis; have emergency contact information ready, including doctors, therapists, crisis hotlines, and a support network of loved ones
  • Plan ahead for how to handle destructive behavior during an episode; for example, you and your loved one may agree that he won’t have access to credit cards during a manic episode
  • Focus on your own self-care; make time for activities and friendships you enjoy, and for getting enough rest and exercise and eating a healthy diet
  • Don’t try to cope alone; talk to your own doctor or therapist, and develop a social network of friends and family to talk with about this; join a support group of others who are affected by bipolar disorder
  • Communicate among the family; make plans and agreements for coping with bipolar disorder symptoms while your loved one’s mood is stable; talk with children about what is happening and what to expect
  • Set boundaries; decide how you can be helpful without taking on responsibility that belongs to your loved one; set limits on what you’re able to do for your loved one and stick to them
  • Plan times for you and your loved one and your family to enjoy activities together

Sources: National Institute on Mental Health; Helpguide.org

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