Some family members or close friends may be able to help the person they care for recognize bipolar warning signs and take action to prevent full bipolar relapse. Not all people with bipolar disorder get these warning signs, but for those who do, involving a family member or close friend in helping to recognize and or respond to these bipolar signs can be very helpful. Warning signs of mania or hypomania are commonly easier to pick up than signs of bipolar depression.
What can the person with early warning signs of mania or hypomania do to prevent mania, hypomania and negative consequences?
• Seek early medical treatment and take prescribed medication to help them rest or sleep.
• Reduce stimulation (e.g. prioritize and do fewer tasks, avoid stimulating substances).
• Take precautions to prevent risky behavior (e.g. temporarily give their credit cards to you or another carer/ caregiver for safekeeping to prevent reckless spending).
It can be very difficult for a person to go against their bipolar mood and use helpful illness management strategies. However, ignoring bipolar warning signs, for example doing stimulating things and lots of activities when becoming manic or hypomanic can make symptoms worse. In fact people with bipolar report that the best chance they have of preventing bipolar relapse is if they catch warning signs early before their symptoms are too severe. Family members and close friends can sometimes encourage helpful illness management strategies and create a calm, quiet environment to reduce stimulation when the person is becoming hypomanic or manic.
What can the person with warning signs of bipolar depression do to try to prevent their symptoms from getting worse?
• Consult their doctor.
• Be with supportive people.
• Schedule small activities (e.g activities that may give them pleasure or a sense of achievement or some physical exercise).
• Get organized and try to maintain a routine.
• Not sleep during the day and get up at the same time each morning.
• Not make important decisions about their life until they feel better.
• Talk about their negative thoughts with someone they trust.
• Get help if they feel suicidal.
What does not help with warning signs of depression is ignoring these signs and being inactive or self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. You may be able to help by inviting the person to do manageable activities together and talking things through with them.
Taking action early to prevent full bipolar episodes can make a difference. Close family and friends can often be the first to notice mood changes. However, misinterpreting mood fluctuations and behavior that are common to us all as part of bipolar disorder can be hurtful and frustrating. Also, constantly watching and questioning the person for signs of illness can affect your relationship and prevent them from enjoying times when they are well.
For some ideas about how to recognize bipolar warning signs and helpful ways to communicate with the person about them see: http://www.bipolarcaregivers.org/supporting-the-person/helping-with-bipolar-warning-signs