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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Bipolar Disorder and Family: 8 Tips to Manage the Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition characterized by extreme fluctuations in mood, that is often not directly associated with external stimuli. It’s a disorder that can lead to risk taking behaviors, personal, familial, and vocational instability, and even suicidal thoughts/tendencies if it is not treated appropriately.

Although, most of us experience fluctuations in mood that travel along a continuum of emotions we often do so gradually and subtly. Persons with bipolar disorder struggle more often with managing moods that are characterized by extreme changes, not subtle changes that escalate between mania and depression. However, in the absence of extreme highs and lows, “normal” transitions in mood can exits for persons with bipolar disorder. Bipolar type can vary from sufferer to sufferer with some sufferers alternating between mania and depression while others struggle with depression and milder forms of mania (hypomania). Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be present in those with the diagnosis often while others can go several weeks, months, or even years without unusual or manic mood swings.

Fluctuations or rapid cycling of mood is not a form of bipolar disorder but one of the characteristics associated with the disorder. Notably, women are more likely than men to suffer from and be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Woman are also more likely than men to experience more symptoms related to depression than mania. Unlike men, female hormones and reproductive factors may influence bipolar disorder and its treatment. Research suggests a positive correlation between female hormones and the development as well as the severity of bipolar disorder symptoms. One study suggests that late-onset bipolar disorder may be associated with menopause. Among women who have the disorder, almost one in five reported severe emotional disturbances during the transition into menopause.

The future of someone with bipolar disorder can vary significantly as therapeutic interventions and medication compliance plays a significant role in the quality of life for the individual that carries the diagnosis. Individuals that are unable to manage their moods successfully, typically struggle with familial/social/romantic/vocational instability, inconsistent or poor adherence to therapeutic intervention and medication compliance. These individuals are also more likely than others to have a poorer quality of life.

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects not only the sufferer but those that care about him or her. Like many other serious medical and mental health disorders persons with bipolar disorder can experience an abatement in symptoms prompting the individual with the disorder and those around them to believe he or she no longer has the disorder. Bipolar symptoms can be unpredictable, strong, and destructive. Symptoms can interfere with employment opportunities, ruin relationships, lead to impulsive/self-injurious behavior, suicidality, aggression, and create an environment of isolation.

Those caring for individuals with bipolar disorder often suffer from and struggle with some of the same issues as those affected. For example, many caregivers of individuals with bipolar disorder are at increased risk for both poor mental and physical health. Caregivers are more likely to struggle with increased stress, obesity, depression, anxiety, and self-medicating.

Potential Affects of Bipolar Disorder on a Family Include:

• Self-isolation or fear/embarrassment of being seen in public
• Disruption or interruption in regular routines
• Strained marital or familial interactions
• Decreased relationship quality
• Shift in familial roles to compensate for the suffers illness and behaviors
• Difficulty in maintaining relationships outside the family
• Increased emotional distress such as guilt, grief, and worry
• Health problems as a result of stress, e.g. anxiety, depression, etc.
• Decreased communication within the family
• Increased anger and resentment
• Chronic fatigue/burnout
• Feeling of loss
• Feelings of jealousy, e.g., a member may experience increased feelings of jealousy if the individual with bipolar disorder is perceived to get all the attention
• Decrease in income as money is spent in the care, maintenance, or legal issues of the sufferer

Many families that have a member with bipolar disorder struggle with feelings of loss, e.g., what could have been, what should have been, or the future they previously envisioned for the member with bipolar disorder. Equally painful is the sense of loss that is typically associated with the awareness that bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Unfortunately, in severe cases of recurrent manic-depressive illness, an individual may never be quite the same person the family knew before the illness.

Helpful Tips Families Can Use to Manage Negative Feelings Associated with Bipolar Disorder:

• Educate yourself and all pertinent family members about bipolar disorder
• Establish and maintain realistic expectations about treatment options and outcomes
• Family members can create a daily schedule for the member with bipolar disorder to reduce chaos and encourage organization of both behavior and thoughts
• Provide support and encouragement to the member diagnosed with bipolar disorder
• Understand and accept some adjustments may need to be in made in regards to the individuals future
• Joining a support group for families that have a member with bipolar disorder can help alleviate or minimize negative feeling. It can also reduce feelings of isolation
• Opening the lines of effective communication with both the sufferer and other family members can increase awareness of symptoms and improve management of symptoms
• Stay positive and avoid both blaming the sufferer and self-blame

As with a many other illnesses and families, working on communication and conflict resolution will play a key role in holding the family together and helping all members to thrive. Getting the affected member into counseling and finding the proper medication are also important the steps that can be taken to manage the stress as well as the disorder.

Bipolar Disorder and Family: 8 Tips to Manage the Disorder

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2019). Bipolar Disorder and Family: 8 Tips to Manage the Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Jan 2019
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