How Families Are Affected By Bipolar Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

How Families Are Affected By Bipolar Disorder

A patient with bipolar disorder is not the only one who suffers from its effects. If left untreated, bipolar disorder will affect a patient, along with his or her family, friends, and loved ones. It is important for family and friends of people with bipolar disorder to be educated on what it means to have bipolar disorder. This includes knowing signs and symptoms, how it affects their loved one, and how to cope with the highs and lows in the patient’s mood.

Living with bipolar disorder is a difficult thing to cope with. Bipolar disorder brings about many challenges for a person that can sometimes feel overwhelming. For example, someone with bipolar disorder will often find their social lives being affected by their symptoms. Relationships may become strained, and the patient may begin hanging out with a disreputable social group. He or she may even withdraw from people altogether.

Each of these patterns can be troubling for the friends and family of a patient. Any changes in the behavior and social patterns of a person with bipolar disorder can cause stress for the friends and family. Being prepared is helpful in managing a relationship with a loved one who has bipolar disorder.

Common Ways Bipolar Disorder Affects Friends And Family

It can be troubling to not understand what is going on with a loved one who suffers from bipolar disorder. Having a loved one who is suffering from bipolar disorder causes confusion, concern, grief and stress for friends and family.

  • Confusion. Bipolar disorder causes a person to behave erratically. It is not uncommon for friends and loved ones to be confused by the patient’s mood episodes. The episodes are often confusing to friends and family because it causes the patient to act out of their normal character.
  • Concern. Witnessing episodic changes in a patient’s behavior can cause discomfort, concern, and frustration. It can be very upsetting to see a loved one go through such erratic and unpredictable mood swings.
  • Grief and Stress. It is not uncommon for a loved one of a person with bipolar disorder to feel grief about the situation. This is due to several reasons, including:
    • The loved one may feel helpless.
    • The loved one may feel his or her loved one is slipping away.
    • There may be a shift in family dynamic and responsibilities that cause a loved one to have feelings of resentment or frustration.
    • The loved one may feel guilty about the frustration that comes with not understanding what is happening.
    • The strain on the relationships and family dynamic can cause stress for each family member.

What To Do When Dealing With A Loved One With Bipolar Disorder

It is a challenge to deal with a loved one who suffers from bipolar disorder. Developing an intervention plan helps prepare the patient’s loved ones for the potential complications that may arise. There are several things friends and family can do to prepare with the challenges that will follow a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Such methods to prepare include:

Educating yourself.
Knowing what it means to have bipolar disorder and the symptoms of bipolar disorder can help to better understand the situation. Learning the signs and symptoms of the episodes of bipolar disorder are helpful in understand the condition.

Develop a plan.
Having a plan is important when dealing with someone with bipolar disorder. Consider the following skills to have when developing a plan and know:

  • How to express your concerns with your loved one.
  • The signs of an episode.
  • Who to call and what to do in the event of emergency.
  • When to react and respond to a potentially dangerous situation.

Seek professional support.
When dealing with someone with bipolar disorder, it is okay to seek your own support. Consulting with a mental health professional can help you:

  • Understand how you are affected by your loved one’s bipolar disorder
  • Learn skills to cope with how it affects you
  • Learn how to address difficult situations with your loved one
  • Develop a plan to take care of yourself and your loved one


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