Helping a person suffering from bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder has repercussions on the affected person's life and on loved ones. However, it is possible to deal with the disorder constructively.

An overview of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, sometimes called bipolar affective disorder, bipolar mood disorder or manic depression, is a psychiatric condition that is marked by alternating periods of mania and depression.

During a period of mania, marked changes can be observed affecting mood and energy. It can be manifested by expansive or irritable mood, elation, and intense goal-directed activity. The affected person generally sleeps less, speaks faster or has disorganized thoughts. There are several possible scenarios, as there are a many manifestations of mania.

During a depressive episode, symptoms that are also observed in depression (a separate disorder) may appear, including excessive fatigue, a significant decrease of energy, sadness, loss of interest, concentration problems, decreased psychomotor activity, and suicidal thoughts. To some extent, the possible manifestations are the opposite of those observed during a manic episode.

Bipolar disorder is most often diagnosed at adolescence or in early adulthood. It affects both men and women indiscriminately, regardless of race, social status or education. Various aspects of life are disrupted by the disease—interpersonal relationships, social or occupational functioning, sleep quality, etc.

Don't jump to conclusions

Sometimes, we tend to label people as being bipolar when in reality they do not suffer from the disorder. It has become common to say (often without the person's knowledge) that "he/she is bipolar." Be careful! In some cases, mood swings, irritability, elation or depression can be present without the involvement of bipolar disorder!

If someone seems to present unusual or worrisome behaviours or if he/she is not the person you know, it could be a good idea to strongly encourage him/her to consult a doctor. Do not make a diagnosis—only a doctor can diagnose the disorder with certainty, following thorough evaluation according to very specific criteria.

When a person, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, presents symptoms that you consider to be worrisome, it is advisable to strongly encourage him/her to see a doctor. During a manic or depressive episode, the affected person may not be aware of his/her state. The situation can deteriorate if medical care is not started in this situation. Fortunately, today, bipolar disorder can be controlled with the use of medication and other measures.

Some advice

If someone you love or know is affected by bipolar disorder, here is some advice to offer better support:

  • Accept your emotions. It is normal to feel confused, at a loss or powerless. Don't judge yourself or the person affected by the disorder.
  • Encourage the person to see a doctor, to take care of his/her health, and to take his/her medication. Congratulate the person for taking charge of the condition and recognize his/her progress.
  • Accompany him/her to medical appointments if he/she wishes you to and offer your help as often as possible.
  • Find out more about the disease, its treatment, and available resources.
  • Promote the person's autonomy and respect his/her pace. Don't try to take control, except if the person is in danger.
  • Don't forget about yourself. Set aside some leisure time, time to relax, and to step back and take stock.

Don't hesitate to speak to a pharmacist if you have questions about bipolar disorder and its treatment or about health and medication in general.

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Helping a person suffering from bipolar disorder

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