How to help someone with bipolar disorder

Knowing they have the support of friends and family is really important for someone living with bipolar disorder. These tips will help you to be a great support to someone going through a hard time, and to look after yourself, too.

This can help if:

  • you’re worried about a friend or family member with bipolar disorder

  • you’re unsure what to do or say to help a friend or family member with bipolar disorder

  • you’re feeling burnt out from dealing with a friend or family member with bipolar disorder.

  • you’re dating someone with bipolar disorder

2 surfer boys

Why supporting someone with bipolar disorder is so important

People with bipolar disorder can lead happy and successful lives when their symptoms are properly managed. Even so, they can go through some pretty serious distress at times, so it’s really important that they have support. There can be a lot of stigma attached to bipolar disorder, so acceptance and support from friends and family helps the person with the condition focus on managing it without having to worry as much about being judged. Learning how to help someone with bipolar disorder is a practical way you can support those in your life who live with it.

How to be a supportive friend

Accept their diagnosis

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be difficult to control at times. If someone with bipolar disorder is going through a phase where they’re experiencing symptoms, it’s not possible for them just to ‘snap out of it’. It won’t help to tell them to calm down or get over it.

Be informed

It can be really difficult to understand what your friend, family member or partner is going through. Learning as much as you can about bipolar disorder and support services hat are available can help with knowing what to expect and what you can do to help.

Be there to listen

Give your friend opportunities to talk about how things are going. Ask them about what they’re going through and let them know you’re there for them. Try to find out what they find helpful during these times. This could be helping them do day-to-day things like helping with groceries or cooking, to things like helping them manage their stress.

Have a plan for manic episodes

It can be helpful to know what their plan is for manic episodes if they’re comfortable sharing this with you but not everyone will have a plan. If there’s no plan, ask them what you can do that would be most helpful for them during an episode and create one together. Check out this helpful guide to get started.

Encourage medication and discourage drugs and alcohol

If your friend, family or partner wants to stop taking their medication, remind them of its benefits. If they do stop taking it, encourage them to see their GP straight away. Consider activities you can do with them that don’t involve drugs and alcohol, which can have a negative impact on mood and interact with medication.

When I'm going through an episode, the best support from those around me is just to be calm and understanding. Remind me to stick to my coping tricks, don't judge, and throw in some reassurance – it really helps to have that stable vibe. – Anonymous, 17

Look out for warning signs

Sometimes, even when someone is on medication, they can start experiencing changes to their mood. You might notice some of the early warning signs; for example, if they’re experiencing low mood or depression they may become more isolated and stop replying to messages or calls. If their mood is becoming more elevated they might become impatient, sleep less and express strange ideas.

If you’ve noticed something different about someone’s mood and you’re worried about their behaviour, let them know you’ve noticed a change and encourage them to talk to their GP or mental health professional. If you’re worried they might be at serious risk or unsafe, find help immediately.

Keep their mental health professionals’ phone numbers on hand

Make a note of the contact numbers of their GP, psychiatrist or psychologist, in case something happens and the situation becomes unsafe.. If you’re trying to help someone with bipolar disorder who refuses help and you can’t get through to them, get in touch with an emergency contact.

The importance of self-care

It can be incredibly frustrating, exhausting and confusing to deal with someone who is experiencing bipolar disorder or to be in love with someone with bipolar. The only way you can be there to support someone in your life with bipolar disorder is if you look after yourself first.

Don’t give up the things you enjoy

Make sure you still have time to yourself to do your favourite things and to work towards your own goals.

Set boundaries

You aren’t always going to be able to be there at every moment, and you can’t let helping someone take over your life. Set some limits on the things you’re willing, and unwilling, to do. For example, let your friend, family or partner know that you won’t take calls in the middle of the night or while you’re at work. Plan with them what they can do if you aren’t available.

Make time to relax

Relaxation is a great way to deal with stressful situations. Ask for support

Make sure you’re getting your own emotional support. Talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling. You might also want to talk about it in counselling or join a support group.

What can I do now?

  • Read more about bipolar disorder.

  • Read about one young person’s experience of helping a friend with bipolar disorder.