Caring for someone with any illness can be taxing and difficult, but this is especially true in psychiatric mood disorders that have no easy and effective cures.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing surveyed 72 caregivers and showed that nearly half of the caregivers had high levels of psychological distress associated with caring for those with a unipolar or bipolar mood disorder. Maladaptive coping skills and lack of social support were the two largest factors that were predictive of psychological distress associated with caregiving. Here are some of the support tips for the caregivers:
Learning about the illness as a caregiver reduces uncertainty and stress around what a diagnosis means and what it means as someone supporting the sufferer. Along with online resources and books, family-focused therapy and group psychoeducation are important therapeutic options in learning more about the illness and understanding coping options.
Caring for oneself is a crucially important aspect of caregiving for bipolar disorder. It’s important to not let the illness monopolise your life. Incorporating positive lifestyle habits such as exercise, yoga, mindfulness meditation, journaling, and fun hobbies will also provide healthy outlets from the demands and stresses of caregiving. Depression rates are high among psychiatric illness caregivers and self-care helps to reduce stress and avoid burnout. Signs of caregiver depression include guilt, apathy, low energy, irritability, withdrawal, altered sleep patterns, and lack of concentration.
Practice coping skills
This includes cognitive reframing and acceptance of all of the feelings that go along with being a caregiver and hearing a bipolar diagnosis. Know that you are not alone, and a vast support system is available online and in-person to help cope. Be mindful of maladaptive coping skills, which includes self-medicating with alcohol and other substances, social withdrawal, and avoidant behaviour.
Find Social Support
Lack of social support is one of the leading causes of caregiver distress. Caring for someone with bipolar disorder is hard and having outlets to express those feelings is important. Keeping frequent social contact with family and friends, volunteering in the community, and if possible, meeting regularly with a psychotherapist are all effective measures to maintain a strong social support network.
Make this a family intervention
We are nodes networked in a family unit, both immediate and extended. One member’s manic-depressive episodes will affect the entirety of the network. Everyone in the family should learn about what the diagnosis means and how to spot it. Having the illness be a family matter also reduces expectations and uncertainties about episodes and how to navigate them more effectively.
Stay informed with the clinicians
Keeping connected and informed with the psychiatrists and therapists of the patient can increase feelings of control and understanding. While the clinicians will be respecting doctor-patient confidentiality, going along to appointments can reduce uncertainty about the illness and be extra social support.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst
In most cases, bipolar disorder is effectively treated and good, stable outcomes are likely. Staying positive and focusing on what is good, including the positive aspects of the disorder such as creative pursuits, puts things in perspective and reduces stress and feelings of hopelessness. It is important, however, to have a plan for times of crisis. Create a dialogue with the person with bipolar disorder to decide what path of action will be taken in acute psychiatric distress, including the steps taken towards hospitalisation if ever needed.
If you are a caregiver for someone suffering from bipolar disorder, thank you for caring for someone that needs it. Your efforts are incredibly meaningful, as bipolar disorder does not only affect the one suffering from it but also those who live and care for them. As the sayings go, one can’t pour from an empty cup, and in aeroplane emergencies, one must put on their own oxygen mask before putting on their neighbours. We hope you take the necessary steps to take care of yourself for the benefit of all involved in the bipolar diagnosis.