I struggle with bipolar I disorder. For the most part, it’s under control. But sometimes, my brain just doesn’t want to behave, and I suffer through dark periods of depression and high manic episodes. I also have general anxiety disorder. So, basically, my brain is constantly fighting itself.
I’m not alone with my mental health. 2.6 million people in the US suffer from bipolar disorder, 17 million have depression, and 40 million deal with anxiety.
Sometimes, in crises, we just need someone we love to help us. So, I’ve compiled a list of the top ways to help a loved one through an episode of every type.
Don’t make fun of them.
This sounds obvious, but let me tell you: it’s not.
When I’m manic, I tend to start multiple projects at once. When I come back down, I no longer have the energy to maintain them. It is so embarrassing to tell everyone about my latest project, then take it back two weeks later.
So, don’t mock them or joke about their mania. Chances are, they feel pretty ridiculous, too. The last thing they need is to feel patronized.
Don’t give unsolicited advice.
A lot of the time, we know what we’re feeling is in our heads. It’s this exact fact that makes it so hard – we know it’s illogical, but the thoughts are still there. It might feel natural to give us advice, but take it from me: this isn’t always useful.
This is especially true when someone is depressed. “Thinking positively” is damn near impossible when we’re in an episode and toxic positivity is a real thing. Instead, just be there. We’ll be more grateful for that.
Talk in advance about how you can help.
If you’re feeling helpless, talk with your loved one about ways you can be there for them that won’t exacerbate their mood. Maybe it’s rubbing their back. Maybe it’s validating. Maybe it’s getting them a glass of water. Maybe it’s not saying anything at all. You won’t know until you have that conversation – everyone’s coping mechanisms are different.
For example, one of my friends needs to be given space, while I feel better when I can call my mother and talk things through with her.
Know the signs before the episode is out of control.
Usually, there are triggers for episodes. For example, specific situations can trigger anxiety attacks, lack of sleep can trigger manic episodes, and stress can trigger depression.
Be aware of the signs that lead to an episode so you can get to the root of the problem before the full episode hits. This isn’t always possible, but generally, mentally ill individuals know what their triggers are and can share this information with you.
Read up on your loved one’s disorder to understand more fully.
There are many resources out there to help you get a sense of what it’s like to suffer from a mental illness. Websites include the National Institute of Mental Health, SAMHSA, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, and Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
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Know when to get them help.
If your friend is spiraling out with thoughts of self-harm and suicide, it’s time to bring in those who are closest and most necessary.
Ask for a list of people to call when they need help. Whether it’s their mom or their psychiatrist, it’s important to acknowledge when you cannot help and need reinforcements. You are not responsible for their thoughts, so stay level headed, avoid the blame game, and reach out to those who you know will have a better response than you.
If your loved one is threatening suicide, and you don’t have a way of contacting someone nearby, do not hesitate to call 911. It’s better for them to be angry about that than to have them follow through with their thoughts.
Episodes are not your fault, and we are so grateful when friends and family are compassionate throughout our moods. How do you help manage your loved one’s mental health? Let us know in the comments.
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