A person experiencing Bipolar Disorder is an individual who deserves to be treated as a whole person and with respect and dignity, whether or not the person wants help. Their symptoms are a part of the person, and not the whole person.
A person experiencing Bipolar Disorder may experience moods that change constantly between depression and mania. Experiences are intense. The new mood can last from a few days to a few weeks, or even months.
During severe manic episodes, a person experiencing Bipolar Disorder may have symptoms that overwhelm their ability to function. They may not be able to distinguish reality from unreality, which can result in psychotic symptoms, including hearing voices, paranoia, visual hallucinations, and false beliefs of special powers or identity.
Signs and Symptoms
A person experiencing a manic episode may experience:
─ Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic or extremely irritable
─ Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities
─ Increased energy and over-activity
─ Decreased sleep and high energy
─ Racing thinking and rapid speech
─ Excessive pleasurable activities
─ Impaired judgment, impulsiveness, lack of insight
A person may experience great sadness, alternating with a “natural high” and/or rage that is not typical. People experiencing Bipolar Disorder may be unaware of the need for help. Left untreated, Bipolar Disorder can seriously affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life.
How to Help Someone You Know Who May be Experiencing Mania
It’s good to remember that helping does not mean ‘fixing’ or immediately finding a solution. It’s helpful to remember that a person may have signs and symptoms, but this does not mean/guarantee that the person has a diagnosis. Sometimes people self-diagnose or we diagnose them, and that isn’t helpful for them, or for us.
A manic experience may be tiring and frightening, or a person may enjoy the feeling of increased energy. They may stop taking medicines without accepting that this may prolong the episode. A person experiencing a manic episode may say and do unusual or hurtful things. You can help by:
─ Spending time with the person, depending on his or her level of energy and how well you can keep up. People who are manic often feel isolated from other people. Spending even short periods of time with them helps them feel less isolated. If the person has a lot of energy, walk together, which allows the person to keep on the move but share your company.
─ Answering questions honestly. Avoid intense conversations and don’t argue or debate with a person during a manic episode.
─ Not taking any comments personally; remember that a person may say or do things that he or she would not usually say or do, including focusing on negative aspects of others. It’s also okay to stay away from the person and avoid arguments.
─ Offering easy-to-eat foods and drinks because it is difficult for the person to sit down to a meal during periods of high energy.
─ Avoiding a lot of activity; trying to keep surroundings as quiet as possible.
─ Allowing the person to sleep whenever possible; the person may only be able to take short naps during periods of high energy.
How to Help a Stranger Who May be Experiencing Bipolar Disorder Mania
─ Approach the person in a calm, caring, non-threatening, and non-judgmental way
─ Do not touch the person without permission
─ Let the person know you are concerned and that you want to help
─ Remain calm; make sure you are in a safe place
─ Note signs of disruptive or aggressive behavior in case you have to call for help
─ Try to find a place to talk that is free from distractions
─ Listen and watch for suicidal thoughts and behaviors
─ Let the person set the pace of the discussion
─ Listen as the person tells you about their experiences and beliefs
─ Answer questions calmly; comply with reasonable requests
─ Maintain your own safety and access to an exit
─ Do not do anything to agitate the person
─ Respect the person’s privacy and confidentiality
Try to De-escalate the Situation
─ Don’t argue or challenge the person
─ Don’t make threats
─ Don’t raise your voice or talk too fast
─ Use positive words instead of negative words
─ Stay calm and avoid nervous behavior
─ Don’t restrict the person’s movement
─ Try to be aware of what may increase the person’s fear and aggression
─ Be still and be quiet; don’t fill every moment with talking
─ Offer consistent emotional support and understanding
─ Provide practical help
─ Do not make any promises that you cannot keep
─ Ask the person if you can call someone he or she trusts; a professional or close friend or relative
─ Understand the person’s symptoms for what they are—symptoms, not a character flaw
─ Empathize with how the person says she or he is feeling
What if the person doesn’t want Help?
─ If you think the situation warrants emergency responders, call 911 or ask someone else to make the call
─ Encourage the person to talk with someone he or she trusts; ask if there is someone you can call for them
─ Remain patient, friendly, and calm
─ Later, remind yourself that the person may remember you as someone who treated them kindly, and appreciate yourself for being kind!