The highs and lows associated with bipolar disorder place considerable strain on a person’s relationships. Although a person’s family and friends love them, it takes a great deal of work to learn how to cope with the disruptions that the symptoms of bipolar disorder can cause for everyone’s life. The effects of the strain are especially noticeable for people who lack knowledge about the disorder or are unsure of how to support their loved one. For this reason, it is important to understand how bipolar disorder impacts personal relationships while learning how to cope with changing moods and behaviours that are sometimes upsetting to family and friends.
Feelings of Guilt or Anger
When a person is first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is common for their family to wonder if they did something to cause it. Young children are especially vulnerable to this effect and may wonder if their behaviour is the reason for their parent’s erratic behaviour. Later, anger may begin to replace guilt as a person’s loved ones must attempt to deal with mood swings and outbursts that disrupt their lives.
Struggles with Disrupted Routines
The manic and depressive cycles both interfere with a family’s daily routine. It is hard for a spouse to know if a partner with bipolar disorder is going to stay up for the third night in a row. Alternatively, the symptoms of depression can make it impossible for a parent to wake up and help their children get ready for school.
Difficulty Dealing with Financial Issues
Reckless spending is a common symptom of the mania associated with bipolar disorder. Spouses and living partners often find themselves struggling with trying to pay maxed out credit card bills from recent spending sprees, or they may be tasked with managing all of the finances due to their loved one’s lack of care during a round of depression.
Conflicts with Family Roles
A family is only as strong as the weakest member. When one person is down, others have to take over. This can sometimes mean that a spouse must take on the role of the caretaker for their partner during an extreme cycle. Or older children may have to take on more responsibility for their younger siblings. This can then generate another round of role confusion when the person with bipolar disorder is ready to take over their responsibilities again.
Facing Fears Regarding Reckless Behaviour
At times, untreated bipolar disorder can cause a person to engage in dangerous behaviours. Gambling, abusing drugs or engaging in dangerous sexual activity all leaves a person’s family and friends worried about their safety. Reckless behaviour can also have consequences such as damage to a person’s health or property along with the potential of being arrested that cause everyone to be afraid of what might happen next.
Explaining the Condition to Other People
Although bipolar disorder has been recognised as a mental health condition for many years, there are still people who are unaware of what it means to deal with cycles of mania and depression. This leaves families playing the role of an advocate for their loved one, and they are often tasked with explaining odd behaviours to other people. The erratic symptoms can also make it hard to maintain other social connections outside of the family. For example, a new friend may think that a declined dinner invitation is a sign of disinterest when really it is due to the family trying to cope with a recent cycle of mania or depression.
As bleak as these challenges sound, it is important to be clear that bipolar disorder is a treatable condition. With a combination of medication and therapy, the effects of bipolar disorder on the family are greatly reduced. Once the symptoms are under control, family counselling also offers a way for everyone to learn how to cope when their loved one is diagnosed with a long-term mental health condition.