Five ways to help a Bi-polar friend or partner
If someone you care or love suffers with a mental condition which makes them act outside the normality and standards of general society. You will often find yourself trying to rationalise their behaviour and actions. Please remember that before you judge them too harshly, they never asked to be burdened with their condition. In the same way a loved one is diagnosed with a cancer or diabetes, there could be a genetic marker that may have triggered off the condition.Although they are a genuine victim of their condition, they must not let the condition dictate who they are or the person they could potentially become. Part of overcoming any physical or mental problem, is not giving into the condition. If you were to do so, your life becomes defined by it.
My former wife who I have loved dearly since the first moment I saw her, was diagnosed with a Bi-polar/ personality disorder in 2010.The previous turmoil and resulting strain and stress caused extreme hurt and damage to our relationship. And with all the associated hardship and emotions almost killed off our basic friendship. Slowly we are rebuilding our lives, having learnt a great deal about each other and even more about the condition which is now part of our families life and future together.
Unfortunately any mental illness is still stigmatized, the media love to portray any mental imbalance to its extreme. The media's general attitude is one of exploiting the drama of the condition as it sells well to its audience. maybe it is through this bias that our ignorance of the subject propagates the myth and evil of mental illness. I believe that we should be educated more about mental conditions and illness through our formative years. From my own experience of what has recently happened, I think a bit more knowledge would have helped us both handle the fallout easier.
The emotional strain we were both under combined with our own selfish needs and single mindedness made a serious event seem much worse than it should have been. By this I have to hold my hands up and accept I did not react well to certain things that happened, the shock of it all made me cling to selfish thoughts and sulk over real and perceived injustices. I was unwilling to adapt to help my love one, but I knew of no easy way to fix what at the time felt a tragic, intolerable and fundamentally broken event.
The fallout from the revelation of her illness and her actions made me see things in black or white. There was no grey area at the time, it was as if I was righteous in my anger and actions. Mental illness is always about the grey area, and stays that way until mood stabilizes, bruised pride and ego heal and a common agreed working plan is implemented.
So what have I learnt from the dark days of the shared experience? The first thing I learnt is quite simply, when it comes to mental health forget your own perceived notions of what is normal. One persons definition of a healthy and balanced mind is always going to be different to someone else.It is amazing to believe that one in five of us will suffer from some kind of mental disorder. How many people do you know who have suffered with to some degree of Stress, Schizophrenia, Psychosis, Anorexia, Alcoholism, Bipolar or any other life altering conditions.
If you are of the opinion that anyone who suffers from a mental health condition is a "nutter" or weak! you will not be of any use to those you care for. Having a self-centred and stubborn view on the subject will cause more harm than good. We as the primary support network need to be sympathetic and adaptive.Dealing with a friend or partner who suffers from a mental health condition is a challenge, but what we do to support their ability to cope does make a huge difference.For a person to live with these conditions shows a great amount of determination and a strong desire to enhance their standard of living.
The next advice I give freely, it is simplistic enough to give but will take effort for us to achieve.If you are in doubt as to how you can help your friend or partner, research the condition as much as you can.Knowledge is power, and with the availability of the Internet we have the information very close to hand. The Internet is full of articles from medical experts, long-term sufferers, self-help groups, Blogs, case studies and articles similar to this one you are reading now.
Although every type of mental illness is specific to the individual you can find a similar theme running through most accounts. A blog by a Depressed housewife in Montreal, will to a certain degree mirror a Depressed Bar Manager in Sydney. How each person copes with their condition is something which sets the conditions apart.The more you learn about what is effecting your relationship, the more you can relate to what they are going through.
The next thing I realised, is that whenever they snap at you or go on the offensive. The last thing we should do is take it personally. If they are taking out their anger and aggression on you, it is best to exit the situation as calmly and as smoothly as possible. Engaging someone who is already in a low mood with a pointless argument is guaranteed to cause more harm than good.
If there is a genuine grievance then listen and deal with the problem as you normally would. Just because someone has a mental condition does not mean they are always in the wrong. If they are blowing everything out of proportion, then it is usually best to leave the argument and talk out what was wrong when they are calmer and more objective.There is no point in trying to score points against anyone, and trying to do so who is suffering a low mood is very counter productive.
Can support and understanding do more to help mental health sufferers than medication?
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I soon discovered that the level of outside support we could call upon, varies greatly from area to area.If there is little in the way of local support groups, then maybe try ones a bit further away, some marriage guidance organizations offer some form of support for a relationship been damaged by a mental health problem. Marriage guidance does not deal with the whole problem of people's mood disorders, but could help in some way. If things are really bad then, you could ask your care worker for any literature or any local support groups that they know of. The pamphlets usually supplied are very similar and may not be of much use to you depending on your circumstances. These support groups maybe Church groups, State organizations or independent charities. You may even be able to set up a support group online via a website or a social networking site such as Facebook.
The main thing we must tell ourselves, is that we are an essential part of their support network.We have to be as consistent and as compassionate as the staff who deal with our loved ones in a clinical setting.We have to learn the art of gently reminding them about appointments, we have to pick up repeat medication, we have to make sure they take the tablet at the appropriate time and the with the right quantities.We have to learn to communicate without making them seem stupid or childlike, as no one likes been bossed and harassed.
The final piece of advice I will offer, is one I have only just truly understood recently. It is expected at some point for your loved ones to make a mistake or do something silly.People with a mental health condition are like everyone else in that they make human errors. If they forget to take a tablet or slip into doing something unhealthy, then acknowledge the problem and move on together. The last thing anyone wants, is to be constantly reminded and shouted out for a mistake.The sufferers of mental illness need us as their means of support as they battle for control of their lives. And as the primary carer's we must remain positive with them and encourage them to live with what we have. I hope what I have discovered in the last year is of some small help to people out there.