It's sometimes hard to know how to react when someone is very unwell because of mental illness, such as bipolar. There isn't any set guidance as every situation is unique to that individual. The REACT team at Lancaster University have come up with a 'try to' and 'try not to' list based on what family members and friends have found useful:

Try to...

Try not to...

  • Give sympathy and support.
  • Wrap them in cotton wool and protect them from everything.
  • Make sure an  individual feels that you understand, love them and care for them.
  • Take on their problems.
  • Help with practical issues, such as getting medication, travelling to appointments or sorting out housing and bills.
  • Protect them from learning to do things themselves. Mental health services should take a fair share of the responsibility.
  • Expect an individual to respect normal boundaries e.g. zero tolerance to threats and violence.
  • Expect the person to respect boundaries if you don't. Don't use threats or violence or misuse drugs and alcohol.
  • Tell people how an individual's mental health and behaviour also affects you.
  • Criticise.

Bipolar UK is delighted to support the REACT study for family members and friends of individuals affected by bipolar and psychosis. The online study is comparing the effectiveness of a Relatives' Education and Coping Toolkit (REACT) with an online Resource Directory for reducing stress and increasing wellbeing. If we can show that this toolkit works then it has the potential to be used across the UK to help relatives and friends.

It is run by researchers, clinicians and relatives from Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, Lancaster University, Liverpool University and University College London and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

The online toolkit contains lots of information on psychosis and bipolar disorder including what people experience in bipolar and psychosis, mental health services and treatment. It also has strategies to manage common problems and stories from other relatives about their experiences. Through the site you can also contact REACT Supporters who can provide additional support. There is also an online forum (REACT Group) where you can talk directly with other relatives using the site.

The Resource Directory lists details of how to access the full range of support currently available to relatives and friends of people with psychosis or bipolar disorder - including links to the websites of the main national mental health organisations and details of how to access support through NHS health services. This ensures you get access to the best support currently available.