Living with Bipolar Disorder: How Family and Friends Can Help


Bipolar Disorder is a condition that includes episodes of disabling depression and periods of uncontrollable energy.  It is common for all of us to have some changes in mood; Bipolar Disorder however is a brain disorder that includes extreme depression and periods of mania. Symptoms of the disease can vary, but it is important to know that this disorder can be treated with mood stabilizing medication as a foundation. Psychotherapy is often an important component of full recovery and ability to manage the illness over time.  

The person is not the only one impacted by the disorders nor the only one that can help in making a positive impact on living a full and successful life with the disorder.  Family and friends can make a big difference in helping their loved ones living with bipolar disorder by developing a better understanding and response to bipolar episodes. Some tips include developing skills to manage stressful situations, supporting participation in treatment, and proactively developing action plans for the future.

SAMHSA developed fact sheets to help caregivers better understand what Bipolar disorder is, how to support their loved ones with the diagnosis, and recommendations for treatment.

Below is a list of things to keep in mind if you are a friend or family member of someone living with Bipolar Disorder:

  • Individuals and families can learn about bipolar disorder from trusted reliable sources.
  • Support participation in treatment. 
  • When a person is depressed or manic, they may not act like their normal selves and may need extra patience and attention. 
  • Work with your loved one to create a plan that supports them when things are not going well. Types of plans to consider are a Psychiatric Advance Directive and a Suicide Safety Plan.
  • Try to listen without judgement and facilitate participation in treatment.
  • Find support for the whole family.

Stay hopeful!  Bipolar Disorder is a disease that can be managed successfully.  A comprehensive set of supports that includes medication, therapy, and the support of family and friends can be a valuable source of hope that is important for long-term recovery.

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