Ongoing treatment -- both psychotherapy and medication -- is essential to
controlling the mood swings of bipolar disorder. How can family members help
their loved one stick with treatment?
"Learn as much as you can about the disease," says Kay Redfield
Jamison, PhD, professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins University School of
Medicine and author of An Unquiet Mind. "Read and read some more.
Join support groups. You'll get emotional support and information you
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder, is a serious, double-edged mental illness. In contrast to the sustained bleakness of major depression (technically called unipolar disorder when episodes only involve major depression and no manic or hypomanic periods), bipolar disorder is characterized by cyclical periods of high energy and elation and then low energy and despair. The pattern of the mood alternations varies widely among those with the disorder. In some people, years...
Also, learn to watch for early signs of mania, especially insomnia.
"Sleep deprivation is the easiest way for someone to become manic,"
Jamison tells WebMD. "Families and friends need to keep on top of that. If
a patient is having sleep problems, get treatment for it."
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers these suggestions to
families and friends, to help a loved one with bipolar disorder stay with
Find the right doctor. Help them find a psychiatrist and other health
providers who take time to listen closely. Encourage second opinions, if you
feel it's necessary. Help by making appointments.
Make doctor appointments stress-free. Put together a list of
questions to ask the doctor. Offer to go along to appointments. Get to know the
doctors, nurses, and other practitioners involved in
Learn about bipolar disorder drugs. You should know about dosages,
possible side effects, and what to do.
Relieve fears. Explain the role of medications -- that they greatly
relieve symptoms without altering personality.
Gently remind. Little "medication reminders" can help ensure
sticking with the prescribed treatment plan. Ask for permission to make these
Chart progress and problems. Help in keeping records of symptoms,
treatment, and setbacks. A journal or calendar works well for this.
Relieve daily stress. Establish a daily routine that your bipolar
loved one can easily handle. Help with everyday chores, like running errands.
Identify triggers that make symptoms worse.
Use words of support. These will help: "I'm here for you."
"You can get through this." "Don't give up." "Your brain is
lying to you right now; it's part of the illness."
Encourage positive self-talk. Here's one example: "My life is
valuable and worthwhile, even if it doesn't feel that way right now."