Mood disorders such as bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) and depression affect millions of people. Their family members and friends are affected too. If someone you love has a mood disorder, you may be feeling helpless, overwhelmed, confused and hopeless, or you may feel hurt, angry, frustrated and resentful. You may also have feelings of guilt, shame and isolation, or feelings of sadness, exhaustion and fear. All of these feelings are normal.
Keep in mind that a mood disorder is a physical, treatable illness that affects a person’s brain. It is a real illness, as real as diabetes or asthma. It is not a character flaw or personal weakness, and it is not caused by anything you or your family member did.
Don’t ask the person to “snap out of it.” Your friend or family member can’t snap out of this illness any more than he or she could overcome diabetes, asthma, cancer or high blood pressure without treatment.
Educate yourself about your loved one’s illness, its symptoms and its treatments. Read brochures and books from DBSA and other dependable sources.
Give unconditional love and support. Offer reassurance and hope for the future.
Don’t try to fix your loved one’s problems on your own. Encourage him or her to get professional help.
Remember that a mood disorder affects a person’s attitude and beliefs. When a person says things like “nothing good will ever happen to me,” “no one really cares about me,” or “I’ve learned all the secrets of the universe,” it’s likely that these ideas are symptoms of the illness. With treatment, your friend or family member can realize that this kind of thinking is not a reflection of reality.
Have realistic expectations of your loved one. He or she can recover, but it won’t happen overnight. Be patient and keep a positive, hopeful attitude.
Encourage your loved one to seek treatment. Explain that treatment is not personality-altering and can greatly help to relieve symptoms.
Help him or her prepare for health care provider appointments by putting together a list of questions. Offer to go along to health care appointments.
With permission, talk to your loved one’s health care provider(s) about what you can do to help.
Encourage or help your loved one to get a second opinion from another health care provider if needed.
Help him or her keep records of symptoms, treatment, progress and setbacks in a journal or Personal Calendar.
Help him or her stick with the prescribed treatment plan. Ask if you can help by giving medication reminders.