SWISS MEDICAL EXPERTISE: MALLORCA, ZURICH, LONDON, OFFSHORE

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Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Bipolar Disorder affects millions of people around the world. It also affects the millions of people around those individuals. It can be a challenge to know how to best support a loved one with the diagnosis. The highs and lows can strain even the strongest of relationships. This Bipolar Awareness Day, we sat down with our head of psychotherapy, Gita Chaudhuri, to get some tips on how best to support a loved one with the diagnosis.

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is characterised by extreme shifts in mood, energy levels, activity, and sleeping patterns. It is often characterised by high-highs (manic episodes) and low-lows (depressive episodes). If someone is only experiencing depressive episodes – it is not bipolar disorder. A manic episode has to happen in order for a clinical team to reach a bipolar diagnosis. The severity levels of the mania one may experience is the determinant between Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2. A manic episode is when an individual experiences an abnormal or sharp increase in energy, mood, thoughts, and feelings. If it is not as severe, this is what we call a hypomanic episode. The episodes can last for weeks, or even months. During these episodes it is not uncommon for people to not sleep, or cause damage to themselves. The result of these episodes can be devastating. People can spend all their money, or end up in the hospital because of an accident. The emotional aftermath of these can then trigger a depressive episode. The first manic episodes are often triggered by a stimulant, whether that’s a drug or a prescribed medication that activates the episode. It is still unknown what causes Bipolar Disorder, but research suggests that it comes from a range of factors including genetics, chemical factors, extreme stress and a life changing event.

1. Educate Yourself

If someone doesn’t understand the disorder, this can lead to a lot of shame surrounding a person’s behaviour. During a manic episode, people will often have very exaggerated behaviour or personalities. Gita Chaudhuri says: “It’s extremely important for families and loved ones to know it’s not their fault, but rather something that can be treated. The elimination of shame comes from educating yourself around what the disorder is and how it works.” When everyone is on the same page, this also makes it much easier to spot the signs of an episode coming on and know what to do as a team.

2. Have a Plan

People should communicate outside of episodes to create an agreed upon plan of action for when they take hold. What are the steps to take? What are the professional resources we can turn to? Establish rules and agreements before an episode starts. The communication that surrounds the disorder will be different for each individual. Gita Chaudhuri notes how two of her patients with bipolar disorder needed different things: “I had a young woman who did not like being asked all the time if she was okay. She didn’t want constant check-ins. This took away her autonomy. I had a different patient, an older gentlemen, who’s wife checked in daily. That worked for them. They appreciated more communication. This is something that needs to be agreed on outside of an episode.”

3. Build a Mindful Routine

The schedule, or rhythm, of a person’s day to day is a big part of a person’s treatment program. The people surrounding them should support a healthy lifestyle, and not push them towards anything excessive. Each person will have slightly different triggers for an episode, but generally you want to stay away from things that are hyper active or exaggerated. Things like drugs, alcohol, a lot of sugar, or emotionally destabilising behaviour can all provoke an episode. These are things that aren’t healthy for anyone, but can be particularly offsetting for a person with bipolar disorder. We want to build a routine that is stabilising and grounding.

Bipolar Disorder is a common, often misunderstood condition. There are two types that range in intensities. In order to receive the diagnosis, an individual must have had at least one manic, or hypomanic episode. When supporting a loved one with bipolar disorder it is important to educate yourself around what the diagnosis is and remove the shame from the behaviour that may come out during an episode. Be sure to communicate and create a plan of action before an episode starts. There should be established rules and agreements between loved ones. While there are different triggers for episodes depending on the individual, there are common culprits in drugs, alcohol, sugar, and emotionally destabilising behaviour. A healthy lifestyle can make all the difference. Together, you can navigate the journey towards stability and well-being.

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