How to Support Someone With Bipolar Disorder

Providing emotional support for a person who is ill with bipolar disorder isn't easy

Bipolar disorder is often a lifelong struggle, and supporting someone who has it isn’t easy. The person who is ill with bipolar disorder is dealing with ignorance, stigma, doctors, the healthcare system, insurance and many other challenges. In the face of all that, what’s a loved one to do?

The Magic Question
While bipolar disorder can feel overwhelming for the mentally ill person and their loved ones, there is really one magical question to remember to ask: What can I do to help?

Yes, it’s only six little words, but they mean so much to anyone who’s ill. No one knows better about what he needs than the person himself. This one question shows you care, that you’re not judging and that you’re willing to do whatever the person needs. That’s a powerful message, and all in six little words.

Other Things to Say to Show Support
Here are three more statements anyone with bipolar disorder would really appreciate hearing:

  • I love and care about you and I always will.
  • This illness hasn’t changed how I think of you or how I feel about you.
  • I’m here for you. I will not abandon you.

Again, these aren’t complicated sentiments, but they’re what people need to hear when they’re afraid a disease will scare away everyone they love.

What to Do 
In addition to giving emotional support, there are things you can do to help a person with bipolar disorder. Here are a few:

  • Take some time to learn about the person’s illness and bipolar treatment. This knowledge will help you both out more than you can imagine.
  • Respect the individual’s wishes about treatment whenever possible.
  • Offer to drive the person to and from medical appointments or pick up prescriptions.
  • Offer to attend appointments and take notes. Anyone can have a hard time remembering exactly what a doctor said.
  • Offer to pick up groceries or make dinner one night.
  • Offer to do the laundry or cleaning.
  • Offer to check in on him when he is in crisis.
  • Find a mental health support group for your own support and for his.

Let the person tell you what support he needs, but remember that he may feel shy about asking for help. Only offer support that you know you can follow through on. One person can’t do everything, even if you truly want to. Set limits, and take care of yourself, too.

Supporting a Person with Bipolar Disorder
Remember, you’re not a super-hero. You can’t do everything, nor can you get everything right all the time. But your support still matters, and it matters a great deal. Having a backstop against an illness that seems determined to take over your entire life is valuable beyond words. I’ve been there.

Medically reviewed in February 2021.

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