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Bipolar disorder

Explains what bipolar disorder is, as well as different diagnoses and treatments. Offers information on how you can support someone with bipolar and tips for self-management.

This page is for friends, partners and family who want to help someone with bipolar disorder.

Seeing someone you care about going through the moods and symptoms of bipolar disorder can feel distressing. But you can offer support in lots of ways, while also looking after your own wellbeing.

This page covers how you can:

Be open about bipolar disorder

If you're open to talking to someone about their experiences, it can help them feel supported and accepted. You can learn more about these experiences by reading blogs by family and friends on the Bipolar UK website.

Make a plan for manic episodes

When your friend, partner or family member is feeling well, try talking to them about the support you can offer during a hypomanic or manic episode. This can help you both feel more stable and in control of what's happening.

You could discuss ideas such as:

  • Enjoying being creative together.
  • Offering a second opinion about projects or commitments, to help them consider whether they’re taking too much on.
  • Helping to manage money while theyre unwell, if they’d like you to.
  • Helping them keep a routine, including regular meals and sleeping patterns.

Discuss behaviour you find challenging

If someone is hearing or seeing things that you don't, they might feel angry, annoyed or confused if you don't share their beliefs.

What feels real for them is real in those moments. It might be helpful if you try to:

  • Stay as calm as you can.
  • Let them know that, although you don't share the belief, you understand that it feels real for them.
  • Focus on supporting them with how they are feeling, if possible, rather than confirming or challenging their reality.

During a manic episode, they may do things that feel embarrassing, strange or upsetting to you. It can be helpful if you try to:

  • Calmly discuss your feelings with them when theyre more stable.
  • Try not to be judgemental or overly critical.
  • Explain how specific things they've done make you feel, rather than making general statements about their actions.

For more information, see our pages on psychotic experiences. We also have a page for friends and family.

"What feels real is real for him in that moment. It helps when I respect that and comfort him rather than trying to explain it's not 'real' for everyone else."

Learn their warning signs and triggers

Most people have some warning signs that they're about to experience a mood episode.

Many people will also have triggers, such as stress, which can bring on an episode. Try to:

  • Talk to your friend, partner or family member about their warning signs, exploring what they may be.
  • Gently let them know if you've noticed certain behaviours that normally happen before an episode.
  • Understand what their triggers are and how you can help avoid or manage them.

"Having a father with bipolar is definitely a worry; you ride the highs and lows with them. Looking out for patterns, talking, remaining calm and supportive is essential."

Try not to make assumptions

You might find yourself always looking out for signs that your friend, partner or family member is starting a bipolar episode. This is completely understandable. But this might not be the most helpful way to support them. You can:

  • Remember that it's possible for anyone to display a range of emotions and behaviour, while still feeling stable overall.
  • Try not to assume that any change in mood is a sign that someone is unwell. If you're not sure, talking to your friend or family member is the best way to check.

"If those around me are concerned about whether changes are symptomatic of relapse, I encourage them to ask, not assume."

Look after yourself

It's important to spend time and energy looking after yourself. You may feel very worried about your friend, partner or family member, but looking after your own wellbeing means you can keep supporting them.

For more information on looking after yourself, see our pages on how to cope when supporting someone else and improving and maintaining your wellbeing. You can also visit the Carers UK website.

"My husband and I both have bipolar disorder so it seemed inevitable that we'd have to rely on each other at times."

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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