Friends & Family: How You Can Support A Loved One With Bipolar

Last Updated: 5 May 2021

Many times family members of those with bipolar do not fully understand what their loved one is going through. Empathy and education are invaluable tools.


I’m going to be speaking with you about bipolar disorder and family. In particular, how family members can support their loved one that has bipolar disorder. First of all, one of the things I know from my experience over the last several years working at the Mental Health Association of Erie County and Compeer Buffalo is that often times parents will come to me, or loved ones will come to me and say, I’ve got a son or a daughter or a brother or a family member that has bipolar disorder, “What can I do?” Often these people are frustrated, they’re angry, they’re concerned, they’re scared about what the future might hold for their loved one. And I can certainly understand that. It can be very difficult to watch someone who is struggling and not know what to do.

So, the first thing I would recommend is just trying to practice empathy, which is essentially trying putting yourself in that person’s shoes and try to identify with what they’re going through. Having bipolar disorder is really, really difficult and by trying to understand maybe what it’s like having periods of depression or even mania can be really helpful. I think that it’s important to remember that even though a person has bipolar disorder, they didn’t ask for it, and if anything, they may not understand it themselves.

Another thing you can do is educate yourself. For instance, go to the NAMI website – NAMI.ORG. A lot of valuable information on mental health, and in particular, also bipolar disorder and substance use. So go to the NAMI website, there’s a lot of good information there. In addition, NAMI has chapters all over the country (U.S.) where there are support groups, educational groups; things like In Our Own Voice and Family to Family, which is a 12-week program on understanding mental illness. These are all great resources which you can access.

In addition, there’s Mental Health America. Mental Health America is the parent organization of all the Mental Health Associations across the United States. Mental Health America and its affiliates provide information; they provide those resources where people can know where to get help and how to get help. Some of them do provide direct care, whereas others, like the one I work for, work in other areas, but as important information and referral about mental illness.

And finally, what I would say is to never give up. In some cases, I understand that relationships can be strained and often times even broken when it comes to bipolar disorder. However, we know, through research, when family members are more supportive of their loved one that’s dealing with a mental health disorder recovery is much more possible or it’s even able to be enhanced or accelerated, so to speak. So, one thing you want to do is never give up on your loved one and remember that hope is always there. There are a lot of valuable places; or another place to remember to go to is, of course, the bphope website, BP magazine. A lot of good information, first-person accounts of people who are successful in their recovery and have been there—been in that person’s shoes.

Remember, there are lots of things you can do as a family member to support your loved one. And as I always say, “Recovery is possible.”

So, for the BP magazine vlog. I’m Karl Shallowhorn. Be well!

Learn more:

VIDEO: Bipolar and Sugar – Ways We Unintentionally Sabotage Our Stability

VIDEO: Bipolar Disorder and Flight of Ideas With Creative Process

About the author
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator for the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl has been living with bipolar disorder since 1981. He is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and has worked in both the addictions and mental health fields for over 17 years. Karl is the author of Working on Wellness: A Practical Guide to Mental Health. He is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor and also works as a mental health consultant for organizations across New York State. Karl has provided a variety of mental health-related seminars and workshops for conferences, schools and businesses on the local, state and national levels. Karl serves on the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Association in New York State, the Mental Health Association of Erie County, the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network, as well as the Erie County Mental Hygiene Community Services Boardand the WNED/WBFO Mental Health Advisory Council. Karl has received numerous awards for his advocacy efforts in his professional career.
  1. My son is in denial and continues to use drugs and go from job to job then when things don’t work out calls me for help. He’s 23 diagnosed at 18. I will say no and give him a sober living number to call and I support him in sobriety and recovery. He gets angry texts me horrible names and never wants to speak to me again. This is my life . I work on my recovery of past enabling to help. You can’t help someone that doesn’t think they have a problem blaming me and everyone else for their life.

  2. Thanks for additional insight. My daughter has Bipolar I and its a daily struggle for her. Trying to raise small children and day to day living is hard on her. Luckily, she has good support system & doctors who help. Any information is useful!!

  3. Thanks for the video. My husband has recently been diagnosed with Biopolar 1 and I am educating myself to the max so I will know how to help him. But, also I want our children to be educated about it so they know what they can do as well.
    The more we know the more we can help.

  4. Thank you for providing the transcript of the video! As one who is profoundly hard of hearing, I truly appreciate it. All too often, when there are no transcripts, no captions/subtitles, or the captions are lousy, I have to bypass videos because I can’t hear/understand what’s being said. So again, thank you.

    1. Hi Renee,
      Thank you for your support and feedback. It means so much to us. We hope you enjoyed the blog.
      Have a wonderful day, bp Mag

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