Caregivers play an important role in helping people with bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness. Those who suffer from this disease can go through extreme mood changes, vacillating between periods of feeling extremely happy and active and periods of depression.
Caring for someone with bipolar disorder can be challenging and can take a toll on both the caregiver and their loved one. As a caregiver you want to be as supportive as you can, while at the same time considering your own needs. Striking that balance isn’t always easy, but here are a few tips that may help you and your loved one through the process.
Learn. Education is always a good starting point. Find out about symptoms and treatments from books and reputable websites like the National Alliance on Mental Health. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one.
Ask what you can do. During downswings, things can become overwhelming for your loved one. Patients can sometimes be reluctant to ask for help themselves for fear of being a burden. So make it your priority to find out what you can do. Simple things like going to the grocery store or giving a ride to a doctor appointment can help.
Keep good notes. As with many illnesses, it can be useful to keep careful track of symptoms in a notebook. Be open about what you’re doing and be careful not to be too intrusive. You may notice symptoms before your loved one becomes aware of them. Catching them early and getting them treated quickly can make a big difference.
Stick to treatment. Help your loved one stay on track with their medication regimen and get regular checkups. Encourage them to make their health a priority and to eat right, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.
Stay active and social. If your loved one is going through a period of depression, he may have a tendency to withdraw from people and activities he usually enjoys. Encourage him to go out to dinner or to see friends. Your loved one may not want to right away, but be patient and ask again a few days later.
Make a plan. Bipolar disorder is unpredictable at times, so sit down with your loved one and make a plan for when times get tough unexpectedly. Agree on what you should do if symptoms worsen. You and your loved one should say what you expect of each other so you can feel confident about acting on the plan should you need to.
Take care of yourself. As a caregiver, it’s important to accept your own limits. If you push yourself too hard you’ll burn out, and that’s not good for you or your loved one. You have to stay healthy emotionally and physically. Your loved one isn’t the only one who needs to get enough rest, eat right, and exercise. Being a caregiver can take an emotional toll. Your feelings are important, so don’t be afraid to express them. It may feel good to talk to a therapist or caregiving support group.
Ask for help. There will be times when you need a break or simply can’t do everything yourself. In this case, call on a group of family and friends you feel comfortable asking for help.