My father has had a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder since long before I was born, giving me lifelong lived experience of co-existing alongside, and supporting someone with the condition. Supporting someone with bipolar disorder, like supporting anyone with a serious condition, can be an incredibly rewarding experience that brings two parties closer together, but can also be one that is a source of great stress and confusion.

My experience as a supporter of someone with bipolar disorder, as well as my experiences working in the mental health field, have equipped me with a ‘tool kit’ of sorts that I use to advise others (and use myself) when supporting someone with a mental health condition.

1. You can’t build a strong house on a shaky foundation

This is advice that I wish that I had been given when I was younger, and forms the centre of any emotional toolkit created for any person affected by mental and physical health conditions, whether directly or indirectly.

Self-care is something that is often taken for granted as occurring, but in actuality is an area that is frequently neglected. When you are supporting someone, your own needs can often fall by the wayside. Over time, this neglect can build up and leave you burnt out. To prevent this, I feel strongly that it is incredibly important to take care of yourself as well as the person with the diagnosis.

Self-care can seem quite intimidating or excessive as an idea, but in reality can be something as simple as giving yourself an afternoon off to put your feet up, having a relaxing bath or spending time with your own support network.

2. Operate within your bounds, and feel comfortable doing so

It can be tempting when caring for someone with an illness to fill every open position in their life, in order to care for them in what feels like a full and complete way. Just like neglecting your own needs, putting this type of pressure on yourself can cause you to overwork yourself into a state where you are not able to support your own mental well being, let alone anyone else’s. It’s okay to be someone’s parent, friend, romantic partner or co-worker, without also being their counsellor, mental health nurse, or psychiatrist.

3. The involvement of a Mental Health Professional is not indicative of your failure

This is similar to no.2, but is still worthy of its own subsection. Bipolar disorder is a cyclical illness, and there will be times when a person’s situation or emotional state is too complex for you to deal with. Reaching out for help for them at this time is not an example of you failing to care effectively or enough.

This links in well with no.1 too, as mental health care can be utilised for yourself as well as the person with the diagnosis. Having a safe space to talk about the issues that are affecting your own mental health is incredibly valuable, and can give you the types of tools that you can use to help support another person’s mental health journey, as well as give them direct insight into the types of experiences they might be having when interacting with medical professionals.

Lastly, when the person is more stable, group and family therapies are hugely valuable, and can provide this same safe space for both or all of you, helping to prevent anyone from feeling targeted or blamed, and allowing you to resolve issues that you have been experiencing with a qualified professional directing the conversation and allowing space for everyone to express themselves.

Don’t forget that you are never alone in your experiences, and that this is not a journey that you must navigate without assistance. Peer Support services have been of indescribable value during my own personal journey. Having someone genuinely understand your experiences is endlessly comforting and rewarding, and utilising these services is something that I would recommend to everyone.

 


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Together, we can support the person behind the diagnosis of bipolar.