Molly’s father has had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder since long before she was born. Her experience as a supporter of someone with bipolar, as well as her experiences working in the mental health field, has equipped her with a ‘toolkit’ of sorts that she uses both for herself and to advise others when supporting someone with a mental health condition.

In her blog 3 tips supporting someone with bipolar, she explains how 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 that it can also be one that is a source of great stress and confusion. Here she offers her advice on how, during the COVID-19 lockdown, to support someone with bipolar whilst also taking care of yourself:

Practice Self-Management

When we’re thinking about our relationships with the people we love, and the ways we can support them, self-management is often brought up as an excellent tool for people with a bipolar diagnosis to use to learn more about their moods and how to manage them effectively. However, self-management can be a brilliant tool for carers too! As you’ll likely know, your supportive responsibility can be stressful, frustrating and sometimes incredibly sad, but having a set of practices to help you release these feelings can help prevent them from building up and impacting your mental health and wellbeing.

Quarantine means that you have more time to be trapped indoors with your feelings, perhaps not working or with less things to do to fill your time, and so these feelings can become overwhelming much more quickly than they ever have before. Finding tips and doing activities that make you feel good are more important now than ever before; you might want to video chat someone you love, spend more time meditating or start an art project that allows you to have some time alone, being creative. If you need ideas for self-management, you can search our website or sign up to our eCommunity to speak to others who are in the same position as yourself.

Share the Worry

Whenever my loved one with bipolar disorder isn’t very well, I am often overcome with worry about them. You love someone so much, and the fear that they might be hospitalised or harm themselves or others can sometimes be completely crushing. They can make you feel anxious, depressed, frustrated or angry, and can agitate pre-existing mental health concerns.

These are not feelings anyone has to work through alone. Reach out to your friends, family members or colleagues about the concerns you have, and talk to them about everything you feel comfortable sharing. Sometimes just a listening ear is helpful, and some people will have an insight that, while you may be under a huge amount of pressure, you are having trouble seeing.

You can use our Peer Support Services peer support services for this too peer support services, and speak to other people affected by bipolar disorder over the phone or online to receive advice, information and support. 

Learn As Much As Possible

We often say to people that an informed carer is a good carer. Learning as much as you can about the diagnosis your loved one has can help you be the support they need. It can help you understand when you should be more worried, and can also be helpful in deciphering which parts of the person you love are their diagnosis, and which parts may be their personality. People who have the diagnosis are people first and foremost, and it can be easy to forget that not every behaviour they are exhibiting is because of their diagnosis; there are a myriad of other reasons for someone to be agitated or grumpy or feeling sluggish or momentarily low.

I also found the more I learned about the diagnosis, the less I felt that certain things may be something I was to blame for. This was a real comfort, and helped me put less pressure on myself when caring for someone else.

I’ve found too that it reduced my frustration – I understood more and more, the more I read and spoke to other people, and this helped me understand more where my loved one may be coming from, the way they may be feeling, and so if I did become overwhelmed or irritated, both perfectly natural emotions, it helped me see the situation from their perspective too, and reduced the amount of tension in our relationship significantly.

You can read our FAQ's or our information leaflets for an introduction to the diagnosis, or contact our Peer Support Services for more in depth or specific questions.

Consult a Professional

This was also part of the 3 tips for supporting someone with bipolar blog, and will be on every list I write. It is, in my opinion, the most important thing I have learned while caring for someone who has a serious, lifelong diagnosis.

It is unequivocally not your job to be both someone’s loved one and their psychiatrist, or someone’s loved one and their counsellor, or someone’s loved one and their pharmacist. Taking full responsibility for another person’s care is an unbelievable amount of pressure to put on yourself, and will often leave you feeling burnt out and unable to provide the support that someone may need.

There are vast swathes of professionals who are there to support your loved one, and contacting or reaching out to them for additional information, or to take over when someone is unwell, is not indicative of your failure. I know for some people it can feel that the reason your loved one isn’t getting better as you had hoped, or is perhaps unwell unexpectedly, is because you as a carer are failing. This is not true. Bipolar disorder, just like many other complex mental health conditions, is not something that you can love away, and may be something that is difficult to manage for a significant period of time. Reaching out for professional clinical support for your loved one will help make this journey easier for the both of you.

Clinical support does not have to stop with the person you are supporting. You can also benefit from clinical support, if you are finding anything difficult or would like someone to talk to. I have found counselling very helpful, as it gives me a safe space to offload any concerns, worries or frustrations I have to someone who is just there for me. Some people feel that their emotions take a back seat, or come second to the person they are caring for. This is understandable, but it’s important that both of you feel that you have somewhere to go to feel supported or heard. In this difficult period, this is more important than ever.

The above tips are not an exhaustive list, but will hopefully give you some ideas about how you can support yourself, while supporting someone else. You can continue the conversation over on our eCommunity and access support from thousands of other people who understand what you are going through.