Featured blog by Michael Swengel
Bipolar affective disorder, also known as bipolar disorder, can be a debilitating illness. According to the WHO, it’s one of the leading causes of disability. Work, play and life itself can be oppressively difficult. Bipolar disorder causes a person’s mood to swing wildly between mania (extreme energy and happiness) and depression (lethargy and sadness.) For some, this swing can happen in the span of a few hours. For others, the swing may take only a moment. Many people suffer silently – their friends and family unsure how to help their loved ones dealing with this sometimes crippling condition.
How can you help someone with bipolar disorder?
A person with bipolar disorder will have great days and terrible days. One day may be full of life and laughter. The next may be characterized only by gloom, lethargy and sadness.
Even from hour to hour, mood swings are the norm.
The laughing, smiling friend you know one moment may be in tears soon after. He may be fun and outgoing one day and sad and distant the next. This is normal for people with bipolar disorder.
Continue to love and care for him. He needs someone running alongside him in life – not a judge.
Close your mouth and use your ears.
Someone in a depressed state may not think rationally. His problems may seem trivial or easily fixable to you or any impartial, objective observer. Resist the urge to fix every little problem.
Whether down or ugly crying, he may just want to be heard. Don’t offer your opinion unless asked. Don’t try to fix and solve every little thing. Just be there. Be kind. Be gentle. Be a friend. That’s what’s needed.
Knowing someone is there, hearing and listening, is a great comfort on its own.
Choose your words carefully
When it’s appropriate to speak, choose what you say very carefully.
All too often, a well-meaning person will say, “Just cheer up!” or “What do you have to be depressed about?” “Well, actually Karen,” I start to think, “that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works!”
Never tell a depressed or bipolar person to just cheer up or be happy.
One, it doesn’t work. If we could decide to just “be happy” don’t you think we would? I remember thinking when someone told me to “cheer up” one day, “Wow! Why didn’t I think of that! Thanks!” Bipolar individuals often cannot control
Two, it’s insulting.
Three, it demonstrates you have no concept of the condition whatsoever.
When appropriate, use your words to build up someone with bipolar disorder. Life itself can feel like an insurmountable wave of pressure and darkness.
Getting out of bed in the morning can be a terrifying prospect. Leaving the house is asking a lot some days.
When people are depressed, they tend to shut down and isolate themselves. This is neither healthy nor safe. Constant isolation fuels depression. Depression fuels isolation. It’s a horrible cycle.
Invite him to events. Make sure he knows he is welcome and wanted. Even if you don’t think he will attend, make it clear you would like him to join you and have a good time.
Understand that your friend may decline, but he needs to know that he is welcome and cared for.
Check in on him
In a depressed state, a mind can wander to very dark places. It’s easy to wonder if our friends really do care, if our family would be better off without us. Check in on your bipolar friends and loved ones.
Even something as simple as a “Good morning! Have a great day!” can go a long way towards helping someone cope with the stresses of the day. Simply knowing that another person is aware of him and wishes him well can make the difference between a cruddy day and a good day.
Ask him how his day is going. Ask how you can pray for him.
Don’t assume someone else will do it. Make a phone call. Send a quick text. It really can make a huge difference.
You can help more than you know
Even small gestures of kindness go a long way toward helping someone with bipolar disorder. Be a good listener. When you speak, be kind and encouraging. Include him in events so he knows he is not alone. Check in on him.
On its own, any one of these may seem insignificant and immaterial, but the impact is far more than you know. One small act of kindness can literally save a life.
Michael Swengel is an Indiana native, entrepreneur, and blogger. He loves writing about entrepreneurship, business, and finance. Read more of his work at FishbowlFree.com