If you have a friend or family member with bipolar disorder, it is essential to learn how to be a supportive friend. It is essential to show up for your friend, let them know that you are still there for them, and not judge them for having a mental health issue.
Way #1: Don't Let it Define Your Friend
First, you are not going to want to let your friend's bipolar disorder define them. They are not just their mental health diagnosis; they are still the full person they were before their diagnosis. Remember that they are a person with additional interests, concerns, and feelings outside of their mental health disorder.
Way #2: Learn About Your Friend's Diagnosis
Second, everyone who has bipolar disorder doesn't have the same experience. There are different types of bipolar disorder. Your friend could experience a mixture of symptoms of the different types of bipolar disorder, which means that everyone has a different experience. That is why you will want to know and learn about your friend's specific diagnosis so that you can understand that.
With bipolar 1, people experience episodes of mania and depression. With bipolar 2, people may have depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes but not mania. With cyclothymic disorder, someone might experience hypomania and mild depression that lasts for a set period, with normal moods as well. Some people don't fit any of these criteria.
Way #3: Ask How to Help
Third, don't assume you know how to help your friend. You are going to want to check in with them and ask how you can help. For example, they may want you to ask if they are taking their medication. Or they may not want to feel like people are always watching if they are taking their medication, and they don't want those types of reminders.
Or your friend may want you to be aware of the signs that they are having an episode and ask what you can do to help them. Asking how you can help them is powerful and can be really helpful.
Way #4: Don't Play Doctor
Fourth, don't act like you are your friend's therapist or doctor. Don't try to size your friend up. Instead, express concern when necessary, and be there for your friend. You don't have to monitor them and try to diagnosis them all the time — just be there for them. You can support them, but you don't need to take on a monitoring role.
If you have a friend who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, don't let it define your friend, and remember they are a whole person. Learn about your friend's specific diagnosis, as a bipolar diagnosis is not just one thing. Ask your friend how you can help them. Don't try to play doctor with your friend; just support them.
For more information, check out something like a bipolar resource directory.
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