Overview of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes extreme mood swings including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Mood swings can affect energy, sleep, activity, behaviors, interpersonal relationships, and the ability to think clearly. Like other mental health disorders, it affects not only the individual but also their loved ones and family relationships. The impact of bipolar disorder on family can be varied causing emotional distress, financial stress, and even health problems due to stress. However, understanding bipolar disorder, finding effective ways to cope, and learning how to support a loved one with bipolar disorder can lessen the disorder’s impact on family members.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes changes in a person’s energy, mood, and ability to function. People with bipolar disorder can experience intense emotional states affecting day-to-day functioning. Mood episodes are categorized as manic/hypomanic (abnormally happy or irritable mood) or depressive (sad mood), which can range from mild to severe. They can also have neutral mood periods as well. Some people may experience years of normal functioning between manic and depressive episodes, while others face several episode cycles within a year or have continuous cycles.
There are three different diagnoses within bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. The major difference between bipolar I and bipolar II disorder is the severity of manic episodes. Typically, a person with bipolar I disorder will experience more severe manic disorders. Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder that involves many mood swings. The person may experience hypomania and depressive symptoms that occur frequently. They will experience emotional ups and downs but with less severe symptoms than bipolar I or II.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Every person will experience distinct bipolar disorder symptoms, ranging from mild to severe, episode duration, and length of time between episodes. Severe bipolar manic or depressive episodes can also include psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions.
Symptoms of a manic episode can include:
- Elated, high, or very up feelings
- Feeling jumpy or wired, more active than usual
- Needing less sleep
- Extreme irritability or having a very short temper
- Talking very fast or having racing thoughts
- Feeling unusually important, talented, or powerful
- Risk-taking behavior that shows poor judgment, such as eating or drinking too much, having reckless sex, or spending a lot of money
Symptoms of a depressive episode can include:
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Feeling lonely or isolating oneself from others
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Talking very slowly, unable to find anything to say, or forgetting a lot
- Low energy
- Sleeping too much
- Eating too much or too little
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Inability to do simple everyday tasks, such as getting out of bed or bathing
- Thoughts of death or suicide
People can also experience mixed episodes which include both manic and depression symptoms together. For example, they may feel sad or hopeless and extremely energized. Bipolar disorder can severely impact their everyday life, affecting their behavior, emotions, and relationships. Increased energy and excitement can cause impulsive behavior and agitation, while depressive episodes can lead to lowered work or school performance and not taking care of their own person, such as hygiene. The effects of bipolar disorder on a person can easily cause issues with interpersonal relationships, especially with family members. Unstable, intense, and destructive behaviors and emotions caused by bipolar disorder can damage relationships.
The Ripple Effect: Impact of Bipolar Disorder on Family
The impact of bipolar disorder on the family can depend on the severity of symptoms exhibited and how well the mental illness is managed. Families may experience less distress with someone with milder mood swings and can learn how to live with many of the demands of the illness through understanding bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, caring for someone with more severe symptoms can be exhausting and stressful, especially for people without the necessary coping skills. Family impact of bipolar disorder can include:
- Emotional distress including feelings of grief, guilt, and worry
- Having to experience unusual or dangerous behavior
- Disruption of regular routines
- Physical symptoms are caused by the daily stress of feeling emotionally tired or worried
- Financial stress as a result of reduced income or excessive spending
- Strained marital or family relationships
- Loss of relationships outside of the family
- Changes in family roles
The Strain on Family Relationships
Family relationships can be complex and difficult at times for anyone but for families with a member with a mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder, family tensions can be even more complicated. One of the trickiest things about bipolar disorder is that there is never one constant state of being. People can cycle from high-energy, manic states to hopeless, depressive states repeatedly.
Manic states can damage family relationships as the person may exhibit speech and thoughts that are impossible to keep up with, engage in dangerous behaviors, and become extremely irritable and short-tempered. Behaviors associated with bipolar disorder can seem self-centered and difficult to understand or put up with. They can pick arguments, lash out for no reason, and belittle loved ones. Depressive episodes can also be difficult to deal with, as the person may experience suicidal ideation leading to worrying about their safety. The person may also have difficulty performing everyday tasks, leaving family members feeling like they are taking on all the household responsibilities.
Impacts of bipolar disorder on family include financial strains. It can be difficult for someone with bipolar disorder to hold down a job or complete schooling, which can cause a loss of income. Manic episodes can cause a person to spend exuberant amounts of money, changing a family’s financial status overnight.
The individual with bipolar disorder is also severely impacted by their symptoms. They can feel guilty, have low self-esteem, and lose friends and family over their uncontrollable mood swings. Serious social and health consequences such as engaging in drug and alcohol use, eating disorders, and health disorders because of poor health choices lead to greater everyday challenges, which have a second-level impact on loved ones.
Effects of Bipolar Disorder on Partner Relationships
Being in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder can be extremely challenging when symptoms are severe. It can feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster, leaving you uncertain, insecure, powerless, and lonely. Manic episodes can lead to irritability and more disagreements with your partner. They may also engage in risk-taking behaviors such as spending sprees or substance abuse, creating relationship tension. A partner’s depressive episodes can be just as difficult to navigate. They can be less communicative, pessimistic, have low self-esteem, reduced sex drive, or feel less affectionate.
It can be a day-to-day challenge knowing who to support your loved one without being consumed by their depression or mania. Some people may feel they have become a caregiver to someone instead of having a partner. They can feel worried about risk-taking behavior during manic episodes or having to take over all household responsibilities when they are in a depressive state. Caring for someone with a mental health disorder is also stressful and draining, negatively affecting your physical health.
Navigating Through Challenges: Bipolar Family Support
Through therapy and medication, even severe cases of bipolar disorder can be managed, and people can go on to have healthy relationships with others. Support from family and friends is also important in managing symptoms. Loved ones can also learn their own coping skills, create strong boundaries, and incorporate self-care techniques that can help them navigate the effects of bipolar disorder on relationships more easily. Knowing their loved one’s triggers and being able to navigate episodes can make it easier for everyone. Supporting their loved ones in keeping up with therapy and medication can help people stay on track. They can also develop action plans and participate in family therapy.
Building a Supportive Communication Environment
One of the best ways to support a loved one with bipolar disorder is to create a supportive communication environment. Learning and incorporating healthy communication skills can help loved ones feel comfortable asking for help when needed, reduce tension when issues arise, and reduce the severity of episodes. Some ways to build a supportive communication environment include:
- Active Listening: Skills for active listening include looking at the person who is talking, focusing attention on what they are saying, acknowledging what you hear through nodding or verbal cues, asking for clarification to understand their viewpoint, and summarizing what you have heard the person has said. Conflicts are easier to work out when you understand where the other person is coming from.
- Expressing Empathy: Sharing another person’s experience through empathy can better help you understand their pain. You can express empathy by validating their experience, refusing unsolicited advice, and truly understanding their feelings.
- Avoiding Blame: When discussing your loved one’s behavior, it is important not to blame them or list all of their mistakes. Focus on how their actions made you feel and how they affect you.
Finding the Right Resources for Bipolar Disorder Family Support
Navigating life with someone with bipolar disorder is challenging, but plenty of resources are available to help you find bipolar family support. Seeking help from a family therapist or other mental health specialists can provide you with individualized help for navigating difficulties. They can help you build the necessary tools and skills to manage bipolar episodes, how to create and keep boundaries, and learn better communication skills. There are also various support groups, both in person and online, that can be beneficial as well to expressing concerns, receiving support, and gaining insight into how others have successfully navigated relationships with someone with a mood disorder. Mindfuli offers various virtual therapy options for both individuals with bipolar disorder and their family members. Through a brief questionnaire, Mindfuli will connect you with personalized referrals for therapists and peer counselors, who you can meet with through their online platform in as little as 48 hours.
FAQs About the Impact of Bipolar Disorder on Family
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes the person to experience intense mood changes, shifting from manic/hypomanic (abnormally happy or irritable mood) to depressive (sad mood). Every person will experience bipolar differently, with mood swing cycles ranging in severity and frequency. There are three different diagnoses: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder, and bipolar I typically have the most severe manic episodes. Bipolar disorder can cause changes to a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. With the right medication, therapy, and support from loved ones, people can go on to live seemingly normal and productive lives.
How does Bipolar Disorder impact family dynamics?
Like many other mental health disorders, bipolar disorder has far-reaching effects on family members and other loved ones. The impact on family dynamics depends on the severity of symptoms and how well the disorder is managed. The strain on family relationships is due to the emotional distress of dealing with extreme mood swings, having to experience unusual or dangerous behavior, financial stress due to the loss of a job or excessive spending, stress from worrying, changes in family roles, and loss of relationships outside of the family. Navigating conflict can be more difficult and stressful for someone with bipolar disorder as well. Behaviors, things said, and emotions caused by the disorder can also cause emotional pain and strained relationships. People with bipolar disorder can also deal with serious social and health consequences, such as drug and alcohol use disorders and losing friends or loved ones.
What challenges can Bipolar Disorder present in romantic relationships?
Relationships that involve a partner with bipolar disorder can be extremely challenging. Unpredictable mood swings can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, and resolving conflicts can be more difficult. Manic episodes may cause irritability and short tempers, leading to disagreements. They may also engage in risk-taking behavior, such as gambling away savings, which can create tension. Depressive episodes can cause low energy and sleep, leaving one partner responsible for all household responsibilities. They may also be pessimistic, feel less affection, communicate less, and even feel suicidal, causing stress and worry in their partner. Being in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder can make you feel like a caregiver rather than having a partner to lean on yourself.
How can families provide support to a member with bipolar disorder?
Bipolar family support is essential for the successful management of symptoms. One of the best ways to support a family member with bipolar disorder is to educate yourself about the disorder so you can better understand what they are going through and how to help them. Encouraging your loved one to seek out professional mental health help can get them on track toward effective treatment plans to manage their symptoms. Families can also support their loved ones by making time to talk, being empathetic, having patience, and participating in family therapy.
What is supportive communication and why is it important in dealing with Bipolar Disorder?
Supportive communication is putting emphasis on the problem and its solutions rather than placing focus or blame on the person. Healthy communication skills can help people with bipolar disorder and their family members communicate openly while keeping tension and emotions low. Supportive communication can be achieved through active listening, expressing empathy, and avoiding blame. Incorporating healthy communication skills can also help your loved one feel comfortable asking for help when needed and reduce the severity of episodes when issues arise.
Are there support resources available for families dealing with Bipolar Disorder?
Plenty of support resources are available for families needing help navigating life with a loved one with bipolar disorder. One of the best ways to find help is through mental health specialists like the ones available at Mindfuli. They can help families build the necessary tools and skills to manage bipolar disorder, effective communication techniques, and help everyone create healthy boundaries. Support groups are also a great resource for talking to others who are going through a similar situation as you can provide insight, advice, and other resources which may be useful to you.
How can families strengthen their relationships in the face of Bipolar Disorder?
Seeing your loved one deal with symptoms of bipolar disorder can be challenging and their symptoms can majorly affect all family members. With effective treatment including medication and psychotherapy, bipolar disorder symptoms can be effectively managed. Families can strengthen their relationships by finding the right kind of help, such as through family therapy. Working together towards learning and implanting skills and tools learned in family therapy can help improve communication for happier, healthier relationships. It is also important for family members to find support for themselves through therapy and self-care techniques to avoid burnout.
If you or someone you love is struggling with bipolar disorder symptoms, Mindfuli offers personalized virtual therapy at an affordable price. We will match you with therapists who fit your needs and preferences and can provide adequate support when facing bipolar disorder. Whether you need help managing your symptoms or are a family member needing your own emotional support, our therapists and peer support counselors are here to help. Please call us at 888-703-3004 to get started today.