How to Talk to Others About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can put a strain on relationships with family and friends. When you're depressed, you might stay away from the people who care about you. When you're manic, you might do things that scare or frustrate them.

But good relationships are an important way for you to stay healthy. You need to keep the lines of communication open. It's always a good idea to talk to the professionals who are taking care of you for suggestions and guidance about talking to loved ones.

Educate family and peers. The people in your life may not know much about bipolar disorder, or they may have a lot of misconceptions about it. Explain what the condition is and how it affects you. Talk about your treatment. You can even tell them about websites where they can go to learn more. The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers support groups for family members. Tell them you need their help to stay well. Not everyone will understand or be sympathetic, but at least you’ve done what you can to educate them.

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Create a support team. Obviously, you don't need to tell everyone you know about your condition. But you also shouldn't rely on only one person. It's much better to have a few people you can turn to in a crisis or when you need help (such as a ride or child care while you go to a doctor's appointment). It’s too much to give all the responsibility to one person.

Make a plan. Accept that you may not have good judgment during an episode of mania or depression. You could really benefit from people who are looking out for you. But loved ones also need to be careful not to push too hard. You don't want to feel like they’re watching every move you make.

So work out distinct boundaries. Decide how often friends and family should check in and what to do if things are getting out of control. If you become manic, you might agree that your loved ones should take away your car keys or credit cards so you don't do anything reckless. If you start thinking about harming yourself, you and they certainly need to know how to get emergency help. A specific plan will make everyone feel better. Consider calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services crisis line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Listen. After all that you've been through, you may not want to hear the concerns of your family and friends. But the fact is that your bipolar disorder does affect the people around you. During a manic or depressive phase, you may have upset people you care about. So try to hear them out and see things from their point of view. If you've hurt people, apologize. Let them know that you didn't mean to act the way you did, and reassure them that you're getting treatment.

Talk to your children. If you have kids, find a way to tell them what's happening. They probably sense that something is wrong anyway. If you keep them in the dark, it might just make it scarier. Explain bipolar disorder in a way that they can understand. Say that it's a disease that affects your mood, but that you're getting treatment for it.

Reach out. Bipolar disorder can make relationships hard. When you're depressed, you may want to retreat from the world. If you've just come out of a manic phase, you may not want to face people you treated badly. Either way, it's easy to let some friendships slip away. Don't let it happen. Force yourself to get together with other people, even if it may be hard at first. The worst thing you can do is to push people away.

If you're still unsure about how to talk to your loved ones, talk with the professionals you're working with for advice.

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