4 Steps to Getting a Loved One Help for Bipolar Disorder

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Diana's sister lives with bipolar disorder.

I have learned a lot while caring for my sister, who has bipolar disorder. The first thing I learned? There is no guidebook for caregiving. Bipolar disorder affects everyone differently, and each situation has its own obstacles and hiccups. But after dealing with my little sister's condition for the last six years, I think I've pinned down four steps that apply to all struggling caregivers.

1. Start the Conversation

The tough thing about getting help for someone with a mental illness is that it's virtually impossible to force them into getting the care they need. Most institutions and rehabilitation centers require that the individual check in of their own volition.

Know this going in: more often than not, your loved one isn't going to like what you're trying to do. When they're in mania, they feel great, invincible, creative and brilliant. They're going to say and do some nasty things. Just remember that your sister, your brother, your husband or wife-they're in there somewhere. This person flinging insults and acting irrationally is not who they really are.

When things are rough, remember that your goal is to get your loved one well-and if you keep working at it, it will happen. When it was time to approach my sister about her problem, my siblings and I gathered together everyone who loved her, sat her down, and told her that we were concerned about her and wanted her to get help. She reacted furiously, rejecting our suggestions and our pleading. But even though she didn't get help immediately, starting the conversation kicked things into motion. Eventually, my sister willingly agreed to enter a mental health facility just to get us off her back. But the main point is that she got help.

2. Find the Best Treatment

Even while your loved one refuses treatment, you should be researching facilities, because it may take a while to find the right place. More often than not, bipolar disorder comes with some sort of addiction, because drinking or using drugs is usually the only thing that quiets a bipolar mind. But this self-medication isn't enough, and it can harm the person further. It's important that a bipolar patient with an addiction problem undergo treatment for both their bipolar and their addiction through a dual diagnosis program. The problem is that there are very few facilities in the U.S. that treat both issues. Often, someone will enter a treatment program for their addiction, but they won't be treated for their mental condition, so the underlying problem is never solved. My sister became a patient at Skyland Trail, a nonprofit mental health treatment organization that offers this dual diagnosis program.

Diana describes the gradual realization that her sister had bipolar disorder.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 15, 2014

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