Here is some helpful advice for Family and Friends.
To successfully combat bipolar disorder requires knowledge, support, willpower and determination. The treatment must continue through the good times and the not so good. Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind, urges family members and friends to learn about the condition, its treatments and anything else which may come in useful.
Her advice is simple, "Learn as much as you can about the disease. Read and read some more. Join support groups. You'll get emotional support and information you need". She goes on to warn about recognizing the early signs of mania, and lack of sleep is one of them. "Sleep deprivation is the easiest way for someone to become manic," Jamison says, "Families and friends need to keep on top of that. If a patient is having sleep problems, get treatment for it".
It’s known that medication and psychotherapy are vital in the battle to control mood swings associated with this condition, and family support is crucial too.
There are good support groups out there and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is one of them. It provides support for families and friends with the aim of helping a loved one continue with treatment when the pressures of bipolar disorder are getting too much.
Good advice from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and groups like them include making sure that you find the best doctor. Assist in finding a psychiatrist and health professionals who are caring in their approach and listen attentively. If you are uneasy with the way things are going then ask for second opinions and help your friend or family member by making appointments.
Offer to go along to the doctor as a friend, write down any questions as they arise ready for the next appointment. Do everything you can to minimize the stress which is felt when going to the doctor.
Understand bipolar drugs, their dosages, interactions and side effects. Learn as much as possible about the medications so that you can explain how they work when relieving symptoms without changing personality. This is very good at relieving a bipolar disorder sufferer’s fears.
Have a conversation with the bipolar disorder sufferer and ask if they mind using ‘Post-it’ style reminders for the medication. Just in case ‘one of us forgets’. Do not do anything without discussing it first. Charts and calendars can be good for recording and monitoring the progress of the treatment by including symptoms, medications and doses. Setbacks can also be noted.
Try to ensure that a workable daily routine which is suitable is in place. It is all about relieving stress. Tips to help relieve stress include, running any chores which are required, helping with little jobs around the house like doing the dishes or sweeping, but ask if help is welcome first. Keep an eye open to identify which activities cause the stress and are likely to become triggers.
Choose your words carefully, think about language being supportive. Phrases like “Don’t give up”, “You will come out of the other side”, “Keep going”, ”Your illness is causing your brain to lie to you right now”, can all help. Try to get your friend or family member to think positively, ask them to talk positively. An example from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is to say, "My life is valuable and worthwhile, even if it doesn't feel that way right now."
When your friend or family member is having a bad time then some written down words may help when they read them. Phrases encouraging them to take their time, have a chat before making a big decision, let the racing thoughts slow down a bit before doing anything can all be beneficial.
Prepare ahead for when the times become worse. Be aware that there will be “bad times” too, but during a “good time” get the bipolar disorder sufferer to promise to call you, a doctor, a helpline or trusted person whenever they fell the “bad times” coming. Get a promise from them, it’s important.
A crisis plan is a list of symptoms which can manifest themselves and the risk of suicide during different scenarios. It should have all of the useful phone numbers included – health providers, family members, friends, and help and crisis lines. Make sure that all trusted friends and family have a copy.
Never be shy about calling the doctor if you think that the situation requires it. For example noting a mood change today and telling the doctor could avoid a major episode tomorrow. If you note depressive or manic symptoms developing then call the doctor immediately.
After reading this article you may feel that it is hard to remain positive but medication and psychotherapy do work and the vast majority of bipolar sufferers live stable and productive lives. But never stop looking for better treatment or better doctors or better ideas. It’s up to you to ensure that your friend or family member has access to the best possible care.