How to Support Someone With a Bipolar Disorder


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Mental health is an important part of a person’s overall well-being mainly because of how it can affect the physical, emotional, and other aspects of an individual’s waking life.

For instance, someone who struggles with stress or even has trouble managing or coping with intense emotions or thoughts is possibly suffering from a mental health illness. Bipolar disorder is one of the mental health diseases a person might be diagnosed with. And if you know an individual who has this disorder, it’s important to find out what you can do to try to support them while they deal with their suffering.

A young girl with bipolar disorder on black background

Nonetheless, getting the proper treatment is still the best step for most people who have bipolar disorder. You could go to a doctor, counselor, therapist, or even look on websites such as to lend a helping hand to a loved one.

What Is Bipolar Disorder

Before anyone can show support to a patient with bipolar disorder, it’s important to know what exactly it is. Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, wherein the person might go through mania or emotional highs and depression which are emotional lows. It’s significant to keep in mind that a majority of the populace commonly experiences mood swings, yet it doesn’t mean that it’s bipolar disorder.

The key difference is that bipolar’s mood swings are characterized as extreme. Emotional lows or the depression phase of bipolar disorder can make the person feel extreme hopelessness and no pleasure at all. On the other hand, mania can cause a person to be full of energy, euphoria, and even unusual irritability.

Because of extreme changes in mood, the disorder can cause some problems with a patient’s sleep schedule, clarity with judgment, energy levels, behaviour, and thinking. Unlike how some imagine it to be, bipolar episodes aren’t activated at will like a person flicking on a switch. Episodes are uncontrollable and can occur at any time and place.

Some experience it rarely, while others might have several episodes within a year. Moreover, bipolar disorder doesn’t go away, so it’s important to manage it correctly and effectively for a healthy and fulfilling waking life.

Supporting a Loved One or a Friend That Has Bipolar

Bipolar disease is a very complicated mental health concern that can severely hamper an individual’s chance of normal living if not handled appropriately. Fortunately, you can be very helpful to a patient that you know in more ways than you’ve anticipated. Below are some steps you can undertake to help out a family member or friend suffering from bipolar.

1. Learn More About Bipolar Disorder

The first thing to do is to educate yourself more about bipolar disease. This way, you can be more understanding, and also use the information to decide on how to act and support the person.Bipolar disorder can be a little complex to understand considering that there are three types.

These types include:

  • Bipolar I;
  • Bipolar II; and
  • Cyclothymic disorder.

It’s also important to understand the possible causes of bipolar because it may have been due to genetics, brain chemistry and biology, and the environment. Understanding the person’s case will allow you to get a better glimpse of the bigger picture.

If you’re aware of what type of bipolar they’re diagnosed with, try to learn more about it. This will help you empathize with them better so that you can better tailor how you react, interact, and communicate with the person you care about.

2. Build a Safe Space For Communication

Communicating and expressing emotions and thoughts is important for many people who have mental health problems. But oftentimes, it’s difficult to build rapport with someone, especially if you’re afraid of being judged or misunderstood. And this is true for some people who have bipolar disorder because, unfortunately, there’s a damning stigma surrounding the disorder.

Bipolar disorder group support

So before trying to openly communicate about problems, it’s always important to set people at ease, whether or not they have a mental health disorder. Ensuring that there’s a feeling of trust and safety in each other will help open up better communication and relationships.

3. Be Patient and Understanding

As mentioned, bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental disorder, so it’s important to be patient and understanding at all times. There will be episodes and shifts in mood that might catch you off guard.
In this case, being understanding and patient with the patient will be more helpful in aiding them and their mental wellness . This way, they can be assured that you’re going to be there even when they’re experiencing mania or depression.

4. Listen

In most relationships, listening is an important skill that can make a huge difference in communication. It’s possible for most people to think that a good conversation requires continuous back and forth exchange of ideas. However, this isn’t always the case; there are times too when it’s okay for one side to speak and the other to just listen.

Listening means also being able to understand the air of the conversation, like when to speak, when to listen, and when to simply be quiet. And being able to do this can help the other person feel supported, listened to, and empathized with.

5. Be Supportive, yet not Pushy

When you want to support someone, you might also have some ideas about what would help the other person. For instance, you might also have some mental health problems and you might have had some treatments or solutions that worked for you.

Yet, this isn’t a good idea because not everyone has the same experience or will react to the treatments in the same way. By forcibly pushing solutions, it can put a lot of pressure on the other person, too.

6. Take Care of Yourself

Supporting and being there for others is important yet it’s important to care for yourself as well. This is because each person has unique limitations that could also be a big factor to take into consideration when understanding and setting your own boundaries.

Think about it this way; just as how much you want your friends and family to take time and care of themselves, they probably also want the same for you. Each person has a responsibility to others to take care of themselves so that the people who care for them won’t worry about them.

But at the same time, when you do want to step back for a while, it’s important to communicate that too. This way you could help them understand that you’re not abandoning or giving up on them.

7. Don’t Contribute to Stigmatizing Bipolar Disorders

To avoid hurting the people you want to support, never contribute to the stigmatization of bipolar disorder. And this can be a challenging thing to do if you’re not aware of what’s true and not true about the disorder.

So, for a guideline, here’s what you can do to avoid bipolar disorder stigmatization:

  • Educate yourself on the illness and how it affects a patient’s holistic health ;
  • Only reference media and publications about bipolar disorder that are accurate
    and true; and
  • Be careful with the language you when talking about bipolar disorder (for example, say ‘a person with bipolar disorder’ instead of ‘a bipolar person’).

8. Support Them in Starting, Continuing, or Going Back to Therapy

Going to a doctor if you have bipolar disorder is important. This is because mental health professionals will know how to better advise patients. Further, they have the knowledge and expertise that can help patients feel at ease and understood. Going to a psychiatrist will also help, especially if they want to get medication.

If they’ve stopped going to therapy or aren’t going to therapy regularly, perhaps you could give them a gentle nudge. You could also have conversations about getting therapy and try to look into it together. Having a person there to support them through the process is extremely helpful because going to therapy can be frightening at first.

The therapist is talking to the girl with bipolar disorder

But once they’ve found comfort and a solid footing in therapy, it doesn’t mean that you can just leave it to the professionals. It’s important to do your part also. During this process, what you can do is to support them and show optimism especially when you see that it’s helping. You could also listen and be understanding if they feel like the treatment isn’t going too well for them.

9. Learn When It’s Too Much

There might be times or situations wherein you might feel like it’s a lot to handle. This is the time to ask yourself if trying to help another person is genuinely something you can do. Every person has their own unique experiences, including struggles that can limit how much they can help others.

If you find that you’re unable to help another person, it’s okay to set that boundary and to support them in other ways that won’t require taking too much time or effort. In the end, one can’t help others in need if they’re struggling, too.

10. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Them What You Can Do For Them

If you’re not familiar or haven’t had experience with having friends or loved ones with bipolar disorder, it’s okay. It can be difficult to understand, but when you finally have a good and trusting relationship with the person, you can ask them about what you can do.

This could mean asking them about how you can help when they’re going through an episode . How they would prefer to communicate when they’re manic or depressed, or even basic things like whether it’s okay to talk about the disorder.


If you have someone in your life that has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s important to think about what you can do and how much you can do to alleviate their situation. Setting this realistic expectation of yourself will help both sides build an understanding of the kind of support that can be given.

But most importantly, as a general rule, education is important when it comes to any mental disorder. Lastly, getting professional help is always a great option that can help patients get the right help for their situation.