Besides assisting the person with their illness, you can support their efforts to regain their confidence and make a good life for themselves.
Adjusting to the illness
People may go through a natural grief process when coming to terms with their bipolar disorder. They may deny the illness or experience a number of different emotions such as sadness, anger or shame. It can take time to adjust to the illness.
‘Recovery’ is a term used to describe “a way of living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing life even with limitations caused by the illness”. 1 Patterns of illness vary and the extent to which people remain symptom free differs. For many people with bipolar disorder, ‘recovery’ may be an ongoing and very personal process of finding ways to manage the illness and live well (see also living well and recovery).
When the person is well, encourage them to do things they enjoy that are not overstimulating or too stressful. Adjusting to the illness may be easier for the person if they set small manageable goals that involve their interests, talents, skills and values. If the person needs to make changes to their job or study plans in order to keep well, take time to listen and discuss alternatives, as this can be a challenging time for the person.
Sometimes the illness can dominate the person’s life so that they forget their strengths, and abilities. You can help to rebuild confidence by encouraging the person to do manageable things, especially things that involve their strengths and interests. However, the timing of this encouargment is important. If the person is hypomanic or manic, encouarging more activities may overstimulate them and increase their symptoms.
Managing to do things for themselves will enhnace the person’s confidence and independence. What the person can manage to do may depend on how ill or well they are. Even when the person is ill, they may still be able to do things for themselves depending on the severity of the illness.
When appropriate, mention things you appreciate about the person. However, be careful that this does not come across as condescending or patronizing.
Don’t keep focusing on the bipolar disorder
There may be times when you need to focus on the person’s bipolar disorder as they are unwell or to help prevent relapse. When appropriate, do things together with the person that have nothing to do with bipolar disorder and let them know that they are important to you.
Try not to always make the illness the central topic of conversation between you. Rather, when possible relate to the person as the friend, partner or close relative they are. It can also be good for family relationships if the focus in the family is not constantly on the person and their illness.
- Anthony WA. Recovering from mental illness: The guiding vision of the mental health service system in the 1990’s. Psychological Rehabilitation Journal 1993; 16: p15