How To Help A Bipolar Family Member Cope With Their Diagnosis

When a family member is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is important to find ways to help them accept it and themselves. It doesn't have to be scary.

The signs and symptoms may have persisted for years before a diagnosis of bipolar was made. There may have been many incorrect diagnosis’ and unresponsive treatment plans. But here you are finally at what you hope is the correct diagnosis. Appointments are set up and medication is prescribed but what can you do as the family member to help?

To help better understand how I handled my husband being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I am going to relate a story to you. I see no difference in how I chose to handle these two situations. My son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was ten. After the initial hospital stay and doctor appointments, my son and I were scheduled to see a psychiatrist. After speaking to both of us, the pdoc asked my son to step out. He turned to me and asked “I have never in all my years had such a young patient be so well-adjusted to his diagnosis. What did you do?” He relayed to me stories of terrified parents and children always crying and/or fighting their treatment plan. I didn’t realize I was such an enigma! My goal has always been to raise well-adjusted children no matter what obstacles they may have.

This in short is what I said. My son had never seen me cry or get upset about the diagnosis. Though I did regularly ball my eyes out in the shower. I explained to my son that there is still nothing he can’t do or achieve, even with diabetes. The only difference, I explained, is that he must be prepared and think ahead just like packing for a vacation. He can still have a long, healthy life if he takes his diagnosis seriously and takes responsibility for monitoring himself. I never, ever looked at my son differently.

When my husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1, I handled it pretty much the same. As a result, my husband is very open and honest with his diagnosis. I see him as a role model and he has helped others open up about their own struggles with mental illness.

When a family member is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is important to find ways to help them accept it and themselves. It doesn't have to be scary.

So, how can you help if someone in your family is diagnosed bipolar?

  • Do not let the diagnosis define the person.
  • Do not look or talk to them with pity or fear.
  • Do not be ashamed of them.
  • Do not take over and control them and their treatment plan.
  • Do not let them get away with everything just because of the diagnosis.
  • Let them know what your boundaries are. (See post on setting boundaries here)
  • Prepare for relapses. (See my video about how I manage mania here)
  • Help them realize that the diagnosis will help them live a better, happy life.
  • Go with them to doctor appointments.
  • Help them manage their meds.
  • Help them recognize changes in their moods.
  • Inform other family/friends/people about bipolar and what to expect.
  • Take every opportunity to fight stigma and educate others.
  • Love and support them.

Your newly diagnosed bipolar family member will soon face stigma out in the real world and many people will look at them differently. Let your home be filled with acceptance and support. When you project that you don’t feel any different about them, that they are not damaged goods or “crazy”, they will be more likely to accept the diagnosis themselves and be more on board in treatment compliance.

If you have any more suggestions or would like to share how you help your Bipolar Family Member, please feel free to post them in comments.

Disclaimer: I am not a therapist or a doctor. This post is based solely on my personal experiences and should not be deemed as advice or counsel. Please seek appropriate medical attention from a licensed professional.

Recommended Reading: (affiliate links)
Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner
Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder: A 4-Step Plan for You and Your Loved Ones to Manage the Illness and Create Lasting Stability
Bipolar Disorder: A Guide for Patients and Families

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  1. I am going to send this on to my husband. I suffer from bipolar disorder (your post made me want to edit that last sentence fragment but I will leave it for illustrative purposes) and think this will be a helpful list for him. Even though this isnt the emphasis of the piece I really appreciate the matter of fact way you treated a “medical” condition like type 1 diabetes exactly the same way you treated a “mental health” condition like bipolar disorder. If everyone felt this way our world would be immeasurably different!

  2. Sound advice that can apply to every diagnosis. Fear makes people react in a variety of ways and how you approached the diagnosis of both your son & husband is pretty much how I would’ve reacted too. Maybe it’s the optimistic outlook? Thanks for sharing! ?

  3. I would love my husband to react as you do. My bipolar is being treated as though it is the common cold and will clear up in 8-10 days if I drink lots of liquids and take my cough medicine. You’re terrific.

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