Coming to terms with the illness

After the person’s first bipolar episode, caregivers may go through a number of stages that are part of a natural grief process. These stages range from initial shock, disbelief and emotional turmoil, to gradual understanding, acceptance, and hope that there are ways to deal with bipolar disorder and live well. 1 The emotional turmoil may involve anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt or shame. However, people with the illness and caregivers often find new meaning and ways to enjoy life within the limitations of the illness.

If you experience emotions linked to this natural grief process:

  • Allow yourself to grieve.
  • You might find it helpful to make contact with others in similar situations who can relate to what you are going through.
  • Consider setting small goals to try to make the most of life within the constraints of your situation.

Depending on the pattern and severity of the person’s illness, this grief process may be more severe for some caregivers than for others. The grief often subsides, even if some sadness remains. However, some of the emotions connected with grief may return from time to time, for example, when the person relapses or they become severely ill.


1.Tranvag O & Kristoffersen K.  Experience of being the spouse/cohabitant of a person with bipolar affective disorder: a cumulative process over time. Scand J Caring Sci 2008; 22 (1): 5-18.