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4 Ways to Support Your Loved One Living With Bipolar or Schizophrenia

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Navigating bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can be stressful, so building up a support system is essential. Sometimes it can be overwhelming or difficult for people navigating a diagnosis to communicate how they are feeling or what they need. Learn more about what people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia wish their loved ones understood about their condition. 

  1. Provide empathy, not pity. 

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia vary in symptoms and severity, which can be hard for loved ones to understand. Oftentimes certain behaviors or movements are uncontrolled, and may vary from one day to the next. Sometimes, a person may require less support, and other times, they may require more support to navigate their day. It’s important for loved ones to provide a sense of understanding and empathy, rather than pity. 

Conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can also contribute to your loved one acting in ways you don’t understand or haven’t seen before. Having a baseline level of knowledge about their condition can be immensely helpful to understand and support them.

  1. Your loved one’s condition does not define them.

Even if someone’s condition appears to have a profound impact on their life, it is important to remember that it does not define a person. In addition to antipsychotic medications, psychotherapies are often recommended in order to help maintain regular activities. Whether or not a patient is undergoing this treatment, many people with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are able to maintain aspects of their everyday lives to varying degrees. 

It is important to remember that all patients still have valid feelings, emotions, and abilities, and should be treated with respect regardless of the perceived severity of their condition. 

If your loved one appears worked up or stressed out about something, do not automatically assume that it has to do with their condition, as they have other factors that could be impacting their emotions — just like you. 

  1. Don’t take it personally if your loved one doesn’t want your help sometimes.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder normally occur in periods, or waves. This can include mania, leading to unusually elevated moods, as well as depressive episodes. In these cases, during one’s peak of a heightened mood change, they may feel increased irritability, frustration, or hopelessness.

In addition, although a support system is an important aspect of treating any condition, it is normal to desire independence or autonomy sometimes. Even if it is not obvious to you, your loved one will likely still be grateful that you are there to support them. 

  1. Support is still incredibly important. 

Navigating any condition can be scary at first, and no one wants to go through it alone. Studies have shown that many stressors, including familial conflict, can cause worsening symptoms. Therefore, reducing family stress as much as possible can be immensely helpful in caring for your loved one physically and emotionally.

It can also be supportive to learn about common experiences of these conditions, as well as common comorbid conditions, and conditions like tardive dyskinesia (TD) that are less commonly known. The better understanding you have of what your loved one may be experiencing, the more you can support them in a positive and reassuring way. Learn more about building a support group focused on TD here.

In the end, remember that navigating any condition can be difficult alone. Asking your loved one how they want to be supported is a great way to get involved, and be able to support them in the best way possible. 

Originally published: November 1, 2023
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