9 Ways to Best Support Someone With Bipolar Disorder

It’s important to have a support system, but sometimes it can be difficult for those we love to know how best to support us. They want to help but sometimes go about it in the wrong way, or aren’t sure how to go about it at all. For each of us with chronic conditions, there will be things that we would prefer our support system do. Below are some things that can help support someone who lives with bipolar disorder.

1. Listen but don’t pressure.

Sometimes talking can really help, and it’s important you let someone who is struggling know you are there for them if they want to talk, but it’s also really important not to pressure them to talk. Sometimes we aren’t able to communicate, and at times talking can make us feel worse. Give us the option but don’t try to force it on us.

2. Simply be there.

Sometimes just being there can help, just sitting with us or being in the same room. We don’t have to be talking, and you don’t have to be actively doing anything, but just to have that support there can make us feel safer and less alone.

3. Ask them what would help right now.

Asking someone what would help right at that moment can be a great move; it can allow them to ask for what they need, big or small. If you aren’t sure what to do, it’s always better just to ask, and really be ready to listen to the answer.

4. Be aware.

Do your research, be aware of what our symptoms are and how they might affect us. This will enable you to understand what we are going through better and to know when you may need to offer help or need to step in if we are unsafe.

5. Don’t invalidate our feelings.

Not all of the things we feel will be caused by our disorder, but too often people invalidate what we are feeling if we are upset or even “too” happy, by assuming these feelings are symptoms. Being aware is a great thing, but it’s also vital to realize we are still people with personalities and with valid, worthy feelings.

6. Offer to accompany us to appointments.

Going to see health care professionals, even if they are routine appointments, can be nerve-wracking and at times even triggering for us. Having someone we trust there who can help to keep us calm and to support us can be so useful, even if you’re just waiting outside.

7. Keep a list of contacts.

It’s a good idea for members of a support system to have a list of contact numbers and details of professionals we are seeing. This could include doctors, psychiatrists and crisis teams, so if you need to advocate for us or are concerned about us, you have those details. It’s important you have our permission for this, as this takes a lot of trust.

8. Have a plan set up beforehand to lay out steps to follow in a crisis.

Setting out a plan between patient and support system in advance as to what you can do to help in a crisis is a great way to know what the next steps should be, when we may need help and what our wishes for care would be if we are unable to express this ourselves during a difficult episode. This ensures we are still able to be in control of our care and can make all involved feel more prepared and equipped to deal with a severe episode.

9. Be there after a crisis.

It’s important to be there not just during a crisis or difficult episode, but to also be there for us afterward. We can be left feeling isolated, guilty and worried after going through an episode, and this can be when we need your support and reassurance the most.

I use the word “us” in these guidelines, but for each person, the things that can help will vary. The best way to find out how to support someone is to ask them personally. For me, I would rather someone talk to me about it if they are unsure, rather than assume or be left wondering how to help.

Photo by Dương Hữu on Unsplash

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Bipolar Disorder

Mother comforting crying child

3 Tips to Help Your Child With Additional Needs Cope While You Travel for Work

The last five years, I have done quite a bit of traveling for work requiring me to be away from my family for various periods of time. Traveling is something I immensely enjoy and one of the reasons I accepted my last two professional positions. It can get hard and exhausting, but I appreciate the [...]
Sponge Bob Square Pants and Elphaba from Wicked

12 Fictional Characters People With Bipolar Disorder Relate To

When you live with bipolar disorder but don’t have friends who share your experience, it can get pretty lonely. It’s all good to hear someone say, “You’re not alone,” but until you see the proof in that — until you find a community of people struggling as you struggle, in the same subtle, infuriating ways [...]

What It's Like to Be 'Almost' Bipolar

Every new psychiatrist is the same. They go through the questions, tick the boxes and give me a puzzled look. They lean back in their chairs and stare at me in silence for a few minutes. Sometimes they flip through their clipboard or scroll through their computer, as if they missed something. “You have almost [...]
a woman behind grass

Native and Bipolar

“Beauty is still there, even when I’m blinded to it, waiting for me to see.” These were the words Ntozake Shange told me during a meet and greet before she presented at UC Davis in February of 2012. I was preparing myself to leave for my master’s research, “Puquios of Nasca: Pre-Incan Groundwater Technology of [...]