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.
Things to remember:
- Your loved one’s illness is not your fault (or your loved one’s fault).
- You can’t make your loved one well, but you can offer support, understanding and hope.
- Each person experiences a mood disorder differently, with different symptoms.
- The best way to find out what your loved one needs from you is by asking direct questions.
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.
Take care of yourself so you are able to be there for your loved one. Find support for yourself with understanding friends or relatives, in therapy of your own, or at a DBSA support group. http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_brochures_helping_friend_family