Finding out that someone you know has bipolar disorder can be a shocking thing. If you truly care about the person, you will accept them for who they are and ask them to talk about their illness if they are willing to.
Be prepared that they may not want to be around you when they are depressed. If they are depressed, the best thing you can do is to let them know that you care about them, encourage them to get out of the house or at least do things so they feel like they have accomplished something at the end of the day. One of the worst things you can do is to tell them to snap out of it. It is not that easy. They have a chemical imbalance in their brain that is causing them to be depressed and it is not a matter of “snapping out of it”. You can be there to listen and offer advice. However, don’t be discouraged if they don’t take your advice.
Be prepared for when the person becomes manic. Learning as much about the illness will help. Also, talking to the person ahead of time to see what you can do if they are manic will help. Some people with bipolar disorder have an action plan for when they get manic. Find out if your friend or loved one has one. If they do, ask to see it and agree ahead of time what you can do to help them. A lot of times it is hard to deal with someone in a manic phase. It can be exhausting as they will have a lot of energy and talk a lot more than usual. Set boundaries. Do not let them wear you out. Find out how you will know if they should be reminded to call their doctor and/or get admitted to the hospital. Know ahead of time that they will most likely do bizarre things. Also know that they could say things that may hurt you. A lot of times people in a manic phase will say things they may not mean and frequently they forget what they have said. If they do say something that is hurtful, I would suggest that you talk to them about it later when they come down from their manic high.
Some things that can be done to help someone who is manic is to take their credit cards so they are not able to spend a lot of money. Another thing is to take their car keys because they are often not in good shape to drive. Also, this will help to prevent them from taking long trips they normally wouldn’t take. These two things work the best if you have agreed ahead of time to do them. They are two great things to add to an action plan.
Some other things you can do is to make sure they are eating. Someone in a manic phase gets so busy doing things that you might not even understand and forget to eat. If you need to, you may want to fix them something to eat. Also, make sure they are taking their medications. They may forget when they are manic.
It is also a good idea to try and avoid confrontation. As previously stated, someone in a manic phase can be hurtful and say things they will later regret. They often do not even remember it.
Another helpful thing is to make sure they go to bed at a decent hour. People in a manic phase do not sleep as much as they normally do. They can stay up for two days straight. Find out ahead of time if they have meds they can take to knock them out and sleep. Encourage them to take them.
If your loved one or friend is a threat to themselves or others, do not hesitate to call 911 or go to the magistrate’s office to get them involuntarily admit them. They most likely won’t be very appreciative at the time. However, later they should understand why. You also don’t want to take the risk of them hurting someone else or themselves because you didn’t do anything.
If you are dealing with someone who has bipolar disorder, thank you! So many people with this illness lose friends and loved ones due to their illness. Thanks for not being someone who abandons them. Thanks for being part of their support system.