If a family member or close friend has bipolar disorder, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help. Although your loved one ultimately decides what your level of involvement will be, the two of you may want to consider the following ways you can help:

  • Get educated. Knowing what your loved one is dealing with leads to understanding and empathy, which are essential to becoming an effective support person.

  • Establish a structured schedule. Daily routines, especially consistent sleep-wake cycles, are important for mood stability and are much easier for your loved one to maintain in a supportive, structured household.

  • Tone down the volume and emotions. Intense emotional reactions, particularly criticism and hostility, may contribute to mood instability, so try to maintain a relatively calm atmosphere.

  • Avoid the four big communication no-nos. Criticism, blame, judgment, and demand are likely to drive a wedge between you and your loved one. Keep them out of your interactions.

  • Hone your communication skills. How you say something is often as important as what you say when talking with others. Establish a receptive forum by using effective communication techniques.

  • Set a few house rules. Target a couple of the most troublesome behaviors, assign consequences, and enforce the rules consistently without criticism, blame, judgment, or demand.

  • Become a problem solver. When conflict arises, approach the issue as a mutual problem to be solved together instead of as a disagreement in which one person is right and the other is wrong. Work together to find ways to meet everyone’s needs.

  • Disengage from unproductive conflicts. Take a timeout when discussion begins to heat up and then return to the negotiating table when emotions have cooled.

  • Take care of yourself. One of the burdens that your loved one with bipolar carries is seeing how miserable it makes you. Feeling sorry for yourself is natural and understandable, but try as much as possible to focus on more pleasant aspects of your life, such as friends, hobbies, and managing your own well-being.

  • Have fun together. At times, bipolar disorder may be your life, but it doesn’t always have to be. When symptoms subside, make it a point to have some enjoyable times together.

Ask your loved one for specific ways you can help, such as sitting in on doctor visits, assuming management of the family finances, or even cooking or doing the laundry. You don’t want to do everything for your loved one; daily chores provide routine and a sense of accomplishment. But try to ease the burden, especially during times of mood instability.