How to Deal with a Bipolar Family Member

Having a family member with bipolar disorder can be difficult, requiring patience and compassion. It is critical to support your family member, take care of yourself physically and emotionally, and educate yourself about bipolar disorder when dealing with a family member’s bipolar disorder.

Part 1

Supporting Your Family Member

1. Recognize that some of your family member’s behaviours are associated with the disorder. A person who is constantly talking about themselves or bragging about their accomplishments, for example, is considered arrogant or self-centered. This behaviour, as well as other risky behaviours that may be equally unappealing to you, is a sign of mania in a person with bipolar disorder. Recognizing that this is a symptom of the illness and not a deliberate behaviour on the part of your family member aids in understanding their condition. However, don’t automatically attribute every mood your family member has to their illness; people with bipolar disorder can be angry or sad in healthy ways as well.

Simply asking about their experience with the illness is one way to better understand and support your family member’s illness. However, before you attempt to engage them, use discretion and determine if they feel comfortable talking with you about it. If this is too threatening, you could simply ask how they are doing and learn more about what they are going through right now.

2. Assist your family member in receiving mental health treatment. Because bipolar disorder is best treated with medication and therapy, it is critical that you support your family member who is undergoing treatment. Participating in your loved one’s psychotherapy is one way to get involved. Family therapy can be a valuable resource in the care of a person suffering from bipolar disorder.

Communicate with your loved one’s mental health provider. If your loved one has given you permission to speak with their therapist or doctor, you can notify them of any concerns or problems as they arise. You can also learn more about how to help your family member.

If a member of your family is not currently receiving mental health treatment, you can encourage or assist them in seeking treatment. PsychologyToday.com and the American Psychological Association (APA) are both excellent sources of information. You can look for therapists or psychiatrists who specialise in bipolar disorder in your area. However, if your family member is hesitant to receive treatment (unless it is potentially harmful to herself or others), do not force it on them; this can scare them away and disrupt your relationship.

3. Assist in monitoring medication adherence. Individuals with bipolar disorder frequently avoid taking their medication because the “high” of mania feels good to them. If you notice that a member of your family has stopped taking their medication, the first thing you should do is notify their psychiatrist or general practitioner as soon as possible. The doctor will most likely want to speak with your loved one and will advise you on how to proceed. If you are unable to speak with a doctor, you can encourage your loved one to take their medications or offer incentives (such as special treats or doing something fun with them) if they agree to be med-compliant.

4. Maintain a medication regimen. Keep in mind that adhering to a medication regiment is not always as simple as deciding whether or not to take a pill. Medications commonly used to treat bipolar disorder frequently result in serious side effects such as forgetfulness, sleepiness, gastrointestinal symptoms, excessive sweating, significant weight gain, hair loss, skin rashes, sexual problems, and other unpleasant and distressing symptoms.

If someone you care about has stopped taking their medication or expresses a desire to stop taking their medication, it may be beneficial to inquire as to why. They may have compelling reasons other than “I’m feeling better and don’t need it.” Others may argue that they enjoy the euphoric high of hypomania and do not want to take medication that will end their euphoria.

Adverse effects are most common when starting a new medication or increasing the dose, but they can occur at any time during treatment and cause significant distress or discomfort to the individual. If your loved one is not following their medication regimen due to side effects, encourage them to consult with their doctor to see if a change in strength or timing of dose, or an alternative medication, might alleviate or minimise the problem to a tolerable level.

5. Assist in the event of a manic or hypomanic episode. If you notice signs that a family member is having an episode, it is critical that you engage them in harm reduction.

Negotiate to reduce the risk of harm during risky behaviours (gambling, excessive spending, drug abuse, reckless driving)

Keep children, the disabled, and other vulnerable people away from the antics so that they are not disturbed.

If your loved one is at risk of harming themselves or others, speak with their medical health care provider or call an ambulance or a suicide hotline.

6. Prepare for a crisis. It is critical to have an emergency response plan in place in order to effectively de-escalate a crisis. Keep contact information for important relatives who can assist you, as well as doctor’s numbers and hospital addresses, on hand. Do not just keep this information in your phone in case the battery dies; keep these numbers written down and with you at all times (such as in a wallet or purse). Make a copy for a family member. When your family member is emotionally stable, you could even create this plan together.

7. Assist your family member in avoiding triggers. A trigger is defined as a behaviour or situation that increases the likelihood of a negative outcome, in this case, a manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode. Caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs are examples of potential triggers. Negative emotions such as stress, an unbalanced diet, sleep irregularities (sleeping too much or too little), and interpersonal conflicts can also be triggers. Your loved one will have their own unique set of triggers. You can assist by discouraging your family member from engaging in these behaviours or by assisting them in prioritising their responsibilities in order to reduce stress levels.

Criticism and critical people are frequently used as bipolar triggers.

If you live with a family member, you may want to keep substances like alcohol out of the house. You could also try to create a relaxing environment by adjusting the lighting, music, and energy levels.

8. Compassion should be exercised. The more you learn about bipolar disorder, the more understanding and accepting you’ll be able to be. While coping with this disorder in the family may still be difficult, your concern and thoughtfulness can go a long way toward supporting your family member.

Simply letting your family member know that you are there for them and want to support their recovery is one way to demonstrate your concern. You can also offer to listen if they want to discuss their illness.

Part 2

Taking Care of Yourself

1. Empathy should be practised. Putting yourself in your family member’s shoes can help you gain a better understanding of their behaviour and reduce your negative emotions or reactions to their mental health. Allow yourself to imagine what it would be like to wake up one day not knowing whether you would be plunged into depression or euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically euphorically

2. Concentrate on your own mental health. Caring for a loved one who has bipolar disorder can cause stress and depressive symptoms. Remember that you can only begin to help others if you first take care of your own physical and mental well-being. Be mindful of your own actions and underlying feelings toward your family member.

Allow yourself to lose control. It is critical to understand and remind yourself (aloud or in your head) that you have no control over your family member’s behaviour. They have a medical condition that you are unable to treat.

Change your focus to focusing on your own needs. You could, for example, make a list of your personal goals and start working toward them.

Make use of coping mechanisms. Coping resources are specific ways to deal with a specific issue, and they are essential for self-care. Activities that you enjoy, such as reading, writing, art, music, outdoor activities, exercise, or sports, can be used as coping strategies. Relaxation techniques (such as progressive muscle relaxation), meditation, journaling, mindfulness, and art therapy are all therapeutic activities that can help with self-care. Another coping strategy is to create distance or remove yourself from stressful situations as they arise.

3. Consider hiring a professional. If you are having difficulty coping with your family member’s bipolar disorder symptoms, it may be beneficial to seek your own therapy. Evidence suggests that obtaining family therapy, rather than just education, can assist individuals (particularly caregivers/parents) in dealing with having a family member with bipolar disorder.

Part 3

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

1. Recognize that bipolar disorder is a biological disorder. This means that it has a strong genetic component and runs in families. As a result, it is not your family member’s fault any more than it would be if they had a medical condition. Bipolar Disorder is not something that your family member can overcome solely through willpower.

2. Learn about the various symptoms of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is classified into two types: Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder. It is critical to determine which type your family member has in order to comprehend their specific symptoms and behaviours.

Bipolar I is characterised by manic episodes that typically last a week or longer. A manic episode can cause symptoms such as a heightened/irritable mood, exaggerated self-esteem, a decreased need for sleep, increased talkativeness, distractibility, an increase in goal-directed activity, and engaging in risky behaviours (such as gambling or having unprotected sex with multiple partners).

At least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode are signs of bipolar II (similar to a manic episode, but less severe and can last as little as four days).

3. Learn about the treatment of bipolar disorder. Typically, bipolar disorders are treated with a combination of medication and therapy. To alleviate the symptoms of bipolar disorder, psychiatrists or general practitioners frequently prescribe mood stabilisers such as lithium. Psychologists, Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), and other clinicians typically help people with bipolar disorder manage and cope with their symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Family Therapy, and Interpersonal Therapy are examples of common therapies.

4. Learn about the typical effects of bipolar disorder on families. Family members of people with bipolar disorder may feel burdened and depleted of energy. Furthermore, spouses of people with bipolar disorder may face a lack of support, and many do not seek help.

If a family member believes that the person suffering from bipolar disorder has control over their illness, this can lead to feelings of burden and dissatisfaction with the relationship.

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