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How to help your bipolar spouse

Gerda Kriel, a Clinical Psychologist from Cape Town, explains that bipolar disorder is defined as a condition where the person suffers from depression and mania at discrete points of time. Gerda gives the following tips:

1. It’s an unpredictable disease, so the healthy partner must try to create a stable and safe home environment – especially if there are children.
2. Get professional help and go for treatment as a married couple. The fear of being stigmatised prevents people from seeking help, but it is impossible to overcome this disease in isolation.
3. Read more about the disease so that you can better understand it and encourage your partner by regularly identifying their good qualities.
4. Use the right language with regards to the disease. Your partner isn’t bipolar, but suffers from the disease called bipolar disorder. The disease shouldn’t define you as a person.
5. If you are the sufferer, don’t use your disease as an excuse, it can be seen as manipulation and estrange those around you.

Trix O’Callaghan, Counsellor and Psychologist from Johannesburg says that it is most definitely not easy living with someone that suffers from bipolar disorder. She offers the following tips:

1. If possible, get to know the treating Psychiatrist better and be available to provide additional information and offer support during treatment.
2. Encourage the sufferer to push through with the treatment and to rather discuss concerns (such as side-effects of medication) with the treating doctor as opposed to quitting their medication.
3. Get to know the warning signs for manic episodes or depression. When the person is stable, plan how you will both handle future episodes together as a couple.
4. Come to an agreement with regards to safety measures, such as withholding credit cards or vehicle keys should a manic episode arise. Keep a record of it. Get to know the warning signs of suicide and take threats seriously. Hospitalisation can save lives in cases where manic episodes or suicidal risks are uncontrollable.
5. Build a support network. Ask other family members to take over from you on occasion when it comes to treating the patient. Join a support group to exchange information and to better understand the disease and feel empowered. Also encourage the patient to manage their own disease and respect their wishes as far as possible.

It’s a disease that needs to be taken seriously and you as the spouse needs all the support that you can possibly get. With the right assistance, a marriage can survive bipolar disorder.