How to Help and Support Someone with Bipolar Disorder

Erica Cirino is a writer, artist and researcher who works globally.

Helping someone with bipolar disorder

If you have a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder, you know this condition can be a challenge. The erratic behaviors and extreme shifts in mood can be hard for the person with the condition, as well as the people in their life.

It’s important for people with bipolar disorder to understand how to cope with their condition. However, it’s also important that the people in their lives — such as friends or family members — know how to help when they’re going through a manic or depressive episode.

Read on for a list of ways to help someone you care about who has bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental illness that causes extreme changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These changes affect the person’s ability to carry out daily tasks. Bipolar disorder most often develops in older teenagers or young adults, and the average age of onset is 25 years. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 3 percent of adults in the United States have bipolar disorder.

There are six main types of bipolar disorder. While they have some similar symptoms, these symptoms differ in their severity and treatment. Here are the six types, ranging from the most severe to the least severe:

  • bipolar I disorder
  • bipolar II disorder
  • cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia)
  • substance/medication-induced bipolar and related disorder
  • bipolar and related disorder due to another medical condition
  • unspecified bipolar and related disorder

The main symptoms of bipolar disorder are intense emotional phases called “mood episodes.” These episodes can switch from extreme happiness or joy (mania) to deep sadness or hopelessness (depression). Sometimes people with bipolar disorder experience both happiness and sadness at the same time (mixed state).

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