Your loved one’s condition is not your fault (or your loved one’s fault). You can’t make your loved one well, but you can offer support, understanding, and hope. Each person experiences a mood disorder differently, with different symptoms. Depression may cause someone to have feelings of unbearable sadness, guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness. The person does not want to feel this way but can’t control it. The best way to find out what your loved one needs from you is by asking direct questions, but also respecting the individual’s personal space when they don’t want to talk.
How to Help
- Keep in mind that a mood disorder is a physical, treatable medical condition that affects a person’s brain. It is a real condition, as real as diabetes or asthma. It is not a character flaw or personal weakness.
- Don’t ask the person to “snap out of it.” Your friend or family member can’t snap out of this condition any more than they could overcome diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure without treatment.
- Educate yourself about your loved one’s condition, its symptoms, and its treatments. Read brochures and books from DBSA and other credible sources.
- Ask if you can help with everyday tasks such as housekeeping, running errands, or watching children
- Give unconditional love and support—offer reassurance and hope for the future.
- Don’t try to fix your loved one’s problems on your own. Encourage them to get professional help.
- Remember that a mood disorder affects a person’s attitude and beliefs. When a person says negative or grandiose things such as “nothing good will ever happen to me,” “no one really cares about me,” or “I’ve learned all the secrets of the universe,” it’s likely that these ideas are symptoms of a mood disorder. With treatment, your friend or family member can realize that this kind of thinking is not a reflection of reality.
- Have realistic expectations of your loved one. They can recover, but it won’t happen overnight. Be patient and keep a positive, hopeful attitude.
- Encourage them to sleep regular hours and have a daily routine.
- Spend quiet time together at home if they don’t feel like talking or going out.
- Take care of yourself so you are able to be there for your loved one. Find support for yourself with understanding friends or relatives, by seeking therapy for yourself, or through a DBSA support group.
Helping a Loved One with Bipolar Mania
Mania may cause a person to believe things that aren’t true, make big plans or life changes, spend money to excess, or do other things that may be dangerous or have major implications down the road. Sometimes a person might be more outgoing or enthusiastic during early stages of mania. Do your best to keep your loved one from doing things that might be harmful. Urge them to put off any plans to start a big project, spend a lot of money, drive a long distance, go out alone at night, meet someone they have only met through the internet or anything that sounds dangerous to you. Keep in mind that they may insist that everything is under control. You may need to ask other friends, family members, or mental health professionals to intervene and help keep your loved one safe.
Tell them that you’re concerned that they are showing signs of mania, and what they are doing that makes you think so. If appropriate, ask whether they have missed any medication dosages.
Encourage your loved one to see a doctor as soon as possible. Make sure the person’s doctor knows what is happening if they are currently seeing a mental health provider. Don’t make demands, threats, or ultimatums unless you are fully prepared to follow through with them. Keep yourself safe. If your loved one becomes abusive, call a friend, family member, mental health professional, or 911 for help.
Ensuring Good Treatment
- Encourage your loved one to seek treatment. Explain that treatment is not personality-altering and can greatly help to relieve symptoms.
- Help them prepare for health care provider appointments by putting together a list of questions. Offer to go along to health care appointments.
- With permission, talk to your loved one’s health care provider(s) about what you can do to help.
- Encourage or help your loved one to get a second opinion from another health care provider if needed.
- Help them keep records of symptoms, treatment, progress, and setbacks—in a journal, in a printed DBSA Wellness Tracker.
- Help them stick with the prescribed treatment plan. Ask if you can help by giving medication, therapy, or self-care reminders. Be willing to step back if they want to follow their treatment plan on their own.
Helping During Outpatient Treatment
When your friend or family member begins seeing a doctor or therapist, show that you support their decision to seek treatment and ask how you can be most helpful. Learn about your loved one’s symptoms. Each person needs different kinds of help keeping symptoms under control. Learn about medications and what side effects to expect.
Some people find it helpful to write down mania and suicide prevention plans, and give copies to trusted friends and relatives. These plans should include:
- a list of symptoms that might be signs the person is becoming suicidal or experiencing mania;
- a list of stressful events that may be contributing to their symptoms (for example, a recent relationship breakup.);
- things you or others can do to help when you see these symptoms occurring;
- a list of helpful phone numbers, including health care providers, family members, friends, and a suicide crisis line such as (800) 273-TALK;
- a promise from your friend or family member that they will call you, other trusted friends or relatives, one of their doctors, a crisis line, or a hospital when manic or depressive symptoms become severe;
- encouraging words such as “My life is valuable and worthwhile, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.”; and
- “reality checks” such as, “I should not make major life decisions when my thoughts are racing and I’m feeling ‘on top of the world.’ I need to stop and take time to discuss these things with others before I take action.”
Some people are able to stabilize quickly after starting treatment; others take longer and need to try several treatments, medications, or medication combinations before they feel better. Talk therapy can be helpful for managing symptoms during this time. Mood episodes can last for months without treatment, and most people recover sooner with treatment.
If your friend or family member is facing treatment challenges, the person needs your support and patience more than ever. Education can help you both find out all the options that are available and decide whether a second opinion is needed. Help your loved one to take medication as prescribed, and don’t assume the person isn’t following the treatment plan just because they aren’t feeling 100% better.