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Caring for Someone With Bipolar Disorder

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

Bipolar disorder is a challenging condition for the person living with it and the people who care for them. Changing moods and behaviors can be confusing, frustrating, or upsetting. But people who support those with bipolar disorder play an enormous role in helping them recover and stay healthy.1

Caregivers of loved ones with bipolar disorder may perform a variety of tasks. Needs may change depending on their loved one’s age and the severity of their illness. Some people rarely need more than acceptance and understanding. Others may need:1

  • Help coordinating doctor and therapy appointments
  • Transportation and housing
  • Reminders to take their medicines
  • Household help, like cleaning and cooking
  • Emotional support

Preparing for the future

Bipolar disorder can be an unpredictable condition. But it is possible to prepare yourself, your family, and your loved one for future episodes.1

Education is the first step. Knowing some common signs of mania and depression can help you spot early warning signs. Early treatment may help your loved one recover more quickly and keep mood swings from becoming severe.1

By learning your loved one’s triggers, you can help them manage stress and potentially avoid new mood swings. You also can help your loved one by talking openly about their condition and advocating for their needs.1

Challenges of caring for someone with bipolar disorder

The challenges of being a caregiver are many. Your loved one needs nonjudgmental advice and kindness at all times. They also may need help with day-to-day tasks. And their needs will change based on their symptoms.1

During episodes of mania, your loved one may become unpredictable or reckless. They may do damage to their health, relationships, or finances that you then need to help with. During episodes of depression, your loved one may retreat from their lives and leave you to handle their responsibilities.1

Patience and understanding are needed to navigate the complexities of helping someone with bipolar disorder. When challenges arise, encourage your loved one to rely on their healthcare team, friends, and family. Help them stick to their treatment plan. Over time, you will learn what else is most helpful for your loved one.1

Taking care of the caregiver

Caregivers fill important gaps left unfilled by doctors, therapists, and other healthcare professionals. These gaps may be varied and include emotional support, help with meals, and even job counseling.2

While it may be rewarding, caregiving can be stressful. This is especially true when you can see mood swings beginning or when symptoms get severe. One way to help both yourself and your loved one is by modeling good self-care. Self-care includes:2

  • Eating a nutritious diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Managing your stress
  • Engage in therapy or support groups

The good news is that there are many ways to restore your physical, emotional, and mental health when being a caregiver takes a toll.

Finding support for the journey

Since bipolar disorder is a common mental health condition, there are many support groups and nonprofits devoted to helping people cope with it. In the United States, some of the most well-known groups are:3-6

These groups sponsor a variety of services, including:3-6

  • In-person and online support groups
  • Lists of board-certified therapists and psychiatrists
  • Crisis helplines
  • Education about mental health
  • Information about financial help

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