This article features personal advice from a Families for Depression Awareness volunteer’s lived experience. To learn more about bipolar disorder, mania, and the role of the family caregiver, visit familyaware.org/bipolardisorder.
Written by Natalie, FFDA Volunteer
It seems the one question on everyone’s mind after my last manic episode was, “How do we stop the manic episode from getting worse once you’re in it?” This was also on my mind. Looking back at the three manic episodes in my life, it would have been amazing to have had some sort of “miracle” that stopped the mania before I spent thousands of dollars, carried through on grandiose ideas, and experienced delusions. If there is a way to limit the destruction that takes place during a manic episode, what is it?
That’s exactly the question I asked my loved ones, my mental health professional team, and myself. I found out there isn’t exactly a miracle intervention like I’d hoped. However, there are four pieces of advice I found that caregivers can try to help their loved one “get through” a manic episode.
Share Your Concerns
First, share your observations of manic symptoms and concerns with your loved one. Encourage other members of your loved one’s support team to do the same. The more the individual with bipolar disorder hears from people that they love and trust that something may be off with their moods or behavior, the more likely it will become apparent to them that they need help.
When a person is in a manic episode, they are on their own mission, on their own agenda. They’re less likely to pay attention to one person saying, “Hey, I don’t think you’re doing too well.” However, if you have multiple trusted people telling you, “I’m worried about your mental health,” the individual may start to see the red flag and be more willing to address it.
Ask for Consent to Talk with the Treatment Team
Second, and preferably when the person with bipolar disorder is in a well place, have your loved one engage with each of their providers – doctor, therapist, case manager, etc. – and give written consent for the provider to talk with you (and others, if desired). This way the individual’s professional support team is sure to know if family and loved ones have concerns about the status of their mental health.
However, if your loved one does not want to sign consent forms, caregivers can still call to report symptoms. The medical professionals won’t be able to share any private information with you, but they can listen to you and use that information in their next encounter with your loved one, which might happen immediately after. Your observations can provide a fuller picture to better support treatment decisions.
Support Medication Adjustments
Third, your loved one will most likely need a medicine adjustment to gain stability. The person in mania will have to make sure they are going to their mental health appointments and provide an accurate description of symptoms in order for this to happen, and this is often easier said than done.
IF you are able to notice signs early enough and IF you can get the person in touch with their prescriber, medication adjustments can help to lessen or stop the manic episode. However, unlike depression where symptoms can occur for 2 weeks or more before diagnosis, manic episodes tend to happen fast without much notice.
Regardless of when your loved one is willing and able to meet with their prescriber, keep track of the behavior and circumstances you observe. Medical providers often welcome family and friend input to inform treatment decisions.
Consider the Need for Hospitalization or Inpatient Care
Lastly, if the individual poses a threat to their own safety or to others, they may need to be admitted to a hospital. Immediate help is crucial to stabilization. The hospital provides a safe environment where the individual can become mentally well again under the supervision of medical professionals.
Hospitalization can happen two ways: voluntarily or involuntarily. As mentioned previously, if different people mention their concern to the individual, then the person may seek hospitalization voluntarily. If the individual’s mental health continues to decline – and they are a threat to themselves and/or others – their physician can file to have the person hospitalized involuntarily.
This advice has been helpful for my family and me, but may look different for your family. Remember that while manic episodes can be devastating to the individual living through it and their loved ones, the dark and difficult times are not forever.
For more information about recognizing and coping with bipolar disorder, visit familyaware.org/bipolardisorder.