Social support is an incredibly important aspect of treating bipolar disorder. Medication can only go so far, so people with bipolar disorder have to depend on other people to close the gap and produce the best outcome possible. There are ways relationships can negatively impact a person with the disorder, especially when there is open hostility. However, positive social interactions can help people with bipolar disorder to better cope with their illness.
LaRae LaBouff lives in Maine with her husband and her dog. She’s an amateur photographer and enjoys traveling, reading, writing and roller derby.Due to personal experience with Bipolar Disorder, she delved into the literature and research of the human mind. She currently writes of her own life experiences both with Psych Central and on her personal site.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Bipolar disorder does not just affect the person with the illness, it also affects everyone around them whether family, friend or co-worker. Having bipolar disorder puts people at a disadvantage socially, so being around people with empathy and compassion is a must.
A recent survey, published in the journal Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy and led by Rebecca Owen of the University of Manchester, sought to find the social interactions that most affected people with bipolar disorder, both positive and negative.
Negative social interactions are common to people with bipolar disorder, especially during manic or depressive episodes. These interactions largely depend on the type of relationship, whether family, friend or professional, but there are themes that emerged in the survey. Some of those themes included:
Behavior can have damaging effects on relationships.
The behavior of a person with bipolar disorder is not always going to be positive. Even when the person is experiencing mania and can seem over-joyful, their behavior can be overwhelming to others. The real damage happens when friends or family see the person’s behavior as unreasonable, especially when the patient does not recognize any problem with their own behavior.
People with bipolar disorder are often seen as weak.
An assumption many people have about bipolar disorder is that those suffering from it should be able to control themselves, even when symptomatic. If they can’t control themselves, they are seen as weak. Depressed? Snap out of it. Manic? Settle down. The truth is, bipolar disorder is far from simple and having it is not a choice.
There is a stigma associated with bipolar disorder.
People who don’t understand bipolar disorder can be prejudiced against those who have it. Some of the blame can be placed on the media, which often portrays those with severe mental illness as frightening or untrustworthy. People with the disorder are simply written off as “crazy.”
The researchers also found that people can also have positive social experiences related to their bipolar disorder. For example:
Receiving positive attention can help patients to better cope with negative symptoms.
When a person with bipolar disorder is dealing with difficult aspects of the illness, family and friends remaining positive is important. With positive feedback, people dealing with mood episodes can focus on their positive traits and actions without having to fixate on potentially damaged relationships.
Friends and family understanding the disorder opens doors to communication.
It often takes years before people are correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder. That is plenty of time for relationships to be damaged because of unexplained bad behavior. Once people begin to understand that erratic or depressive behaviors are symptoms of a disorder, they can better empathize with the person rather than judge them, making being open about the disorder easier and more likely.
Having normal social encounters helps people feel more in control of their disorder.
During episodes of depression, people with bipolar disorder often isolate themselves and actively attempt to avoid social interaction. When they are able to have regular social engagements and conversations, it can provide them with extra confidence that they are, in some ways, able to control how much effect their disorder has on their lives.
Bipolar disorder can be hard on caregivers as well as patients, but having encouragement and empathy from friends and family is important for people with bipolar disorder. It gives people the freedom to focus on their treatment and self-care without having the added worry about their disorder wreaking havoc on relationships.