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How Family and Friends of Those with Bipolar Disorder Can Help Themselves

Rashmi Nemade, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA

Bipolar Disorder is a condition that affects the entire family - mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, and children.

stressed out 3D figure In cases of children with bipolar disorder, siblings may feel jealous of their affected sibling getting all the attention and focus. This can create an unpleasant and exhausting home life in which parents are always acting as referees to stop arguing.

Spouses and partners have to handle responsibilities for the person with bipolar disorder during times when they are most ill. Jobs may be lost and the family deprived of an important source of income. Insurances may be difficult to obtain. Normal child care routines may become severely disrupted, throwing the family into crisis. Family instability can lead to stressful holidays and family gatherings. Severe depression resulting in bipolar suicide impacts everyone related to the suicidal patient.

Family members can do only so much to prevent those with bipolar disorder from entering into dangerous mood episodes. Beyond doing all they can to support the person, family members may also need to insulate themselves as best they can from the extremes of behavior that they may have to endure. There are several ways that this strategy of insulation can occur:

  • Family members can educate themselves as to the nature of bipolar symptoms so that the various behaviors that may occur will not surprise them.
  • Family members may participate in bipolar support groups or family therapy situations where they can talk about and process their experiences.
  • The family may find it useful to develop an ongoing relationship with a family therapist who can provide advice and crisis management services
  • Patients' direct access to family finances can be limited, or protections can be put into place requiring additional signatures for any substantial purchases.
  • Regular testing for sexually transmitted disease can occur for both the person with bipolar disorder and spouses/partners when sexual promiscuity is involved. Similarly, long acting birth control can be used to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy (in women).

Taking these and similar steps can help family members to survive a loved one's severe bipolar symptoms.