caregiver tips

Bipolar Disorder and Self-Injury

Many people with bipolar disorder deliberately hurt themselves by tactics such as cutting, burning, punching, and pulling out hair. Women are much more likely than men to cut themselves, but people of all races and all backgrounds engage in the behavior.

If you have a loved one with bipolar disorder who engages in self-injury, it’s important to learn why she does it, what mood episodes may foster the behavior, and what you can do to help.

Bipolar Disorder and Cutting: Why?

You may be surprised to learn why people living with bipolar disorder cut themselves. With cutting, it’s a tension release phenomenon not suicidal behavior. In people living with bipolar disorder, cutting is more common during what is known as a “mixed phase,” during which the patient is experiencing manic and depressive symptoms. Any phase of bipolar disorder can lead to use of alcohol and drugs and when you already have depression or any of the major mood episodes, you are also much more prone to cause self-injury.

Bipolar Disorder and Cutting: How Can Parents and Caregivers Help?

Cutting is such a serious and frightening behavior that you may feel helpless. However there are some positive steps you can take as a caregiver to control her bipolar disorder, which in turn may help control her cutting behaviors:

  • Be calm and supportive. Although living with a loved one with bipolar disorder can be very frustrating, it is very important not to show that frustration to her or to be critical. Encourage your loved one to stay on medication and finish either school or maintain jobs.
  • Help identify mood changes. Another important role you can take is to go to doctor’s appointments with your loved one and learn how to recognize signals that she is starting a mood episode. Sometimes family members can identify when the bipolar loved one is beginning a bipolar phase even when she can’t.

If you see any signs that a loved one with bipolar disorder is cutting or otherwise injuring herself, tell her doctor immediately. Together you can figure out the best way to help.



Oct 16, 2013
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How to Deal with a Bipolar Spouse

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Sharing a life with someone who has a mental health problem like bipolar disorder can be frustrating, rewarding, and overwhelming. Many times you may not know what to expect because your partner suffers from intense highs and lows. If you have children, you may have to be the absolute caretaker when your partner is struggling from depression or mania. It’s important to acknowledge the role that the spouse of someone with bipolar disorder plays, because it can be very difficult.
• Step 1:
Show your spouse that you still love them. People with bipolar disorder are often scared and lonely, so they struggle with feelings of worthlessness. It’s vital that you let your loved one know you care. Your spouse should know that you’ll give enough emotional support, so share how much you care for your spouse and do so often. This is an enormous help to most people with bipolar disorder.
• Step 2:
Educate everyone in the family. Learn everything you can about bipolar disorder and make sure other family members learn the same information. Everyone in the household should be aware of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, treatment options, side effects of medication, and complications of the condition. This way, everyone understands what the bipolar family member is going through and can watch for signs of mental distress.
• Step 3:
Take control of treatment. Your spouse may not be motivated to seek out help. In that case, it’s up to you to seek out qualified psychologists and psychiatrists in your area for your loved one to see. You’ll also need to schedule appointments and be aware of medications that he or she takes. This can sometimes be a full-time job, especially if your loved one has sever bipolar needs. In order to take some of the burden off of you, train one or more other family members to take over these duties when you really need a break.
• Step 4:
Have a plan of action. Even with the best treatment program, it may take an unexpected turn for the worse one day. If your spouse ever becomes suicidal, you and your family should know what to do to help him. Your plan should include a list of medical professionals to call and one or two hospitals where you can take them if it becomes necessary.


Sep 05, 2013
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Caring for Your Bipolar Child at Home

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If your child has bipolar disorder, learning as much as you can about the disorder can help you to recognize mood changes in your child as they occur. Being able to catch and treat these mood changes early may help to reduce the length of the manic or depressive episode and improve the quality of your child’s life. Here are some steps you can take at home to reduce your child’s bipolar symptoms:

  • Control the amount of stress in your child’s life. This might mean, for example, that you may need to find ways to help your child reduce his or her academic requirements if school is causing him or her stress.
  • Keep your child’s room quiet, and have him or her go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Learn to recognize the early warning signs of your child’s manic and depressive mood episodes.

There are also some steps that with your help, your child can take to help control their moods:

  • Getting enough exercise. During a depressive episode however, your child might only feel like doing gentle exercises, such as taking a walk or swimming.
  • Eating a balanced diet.
  • Getting enough sleep and keeping a regular sleep schedule.
  • Avoiding the use of alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse makes bipolar disorder worse.
  • Trying to avoid any beverages that contain caffeine, including coffee, tea, colas and energy drinks.
  • Learning to recognize the early warning signs of his or her manic and depressive mood episodes.
  • Making sure he or she asks for help when needed, whether it is from you, or from the rest of the family or friends.



Jul 31, 2013
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Helping Your Child with Depression

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Childhood and teen depression is real and can be painful for both the child and for his or her entire family. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 33 children and 1 in 8 teenagers suffer from depression. If you are wondering whether your child is at risk for depression, then answering some of these questions can help:

  • Do you have a family history of depression?
  • Has something major happened to you or your child?

You should also be aware of the signs of depression that can appear in your child. These may include:

  • Loss of interest in daily or regular activities
  • Frequent and persistent depressed mood or irritability
  • Significant change in weight or appetite
  • Change in sleep pattern, such as suddenly sleeping too much or too little
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying, suicide or a suicide attempt

If you start to notice that these behaviors or symptoms are interfering with your child’s life, either at home, school or with friends, then it just might be that he or she is suffering from depression. By being aware of the signs and symptoms of depression, and getting prompt treatment for your child, these are the first things you can do to help your child. Other things you can do to help:

  • Encourage him or her to remain active, which is known to help with symptoms
  • Remind your child of your support. It is very important to tell him or her on regular basis that he or she can count on you.
  • Make sure he or she is eating healthy foods and following his or her treatments
  • Praising for his or her efforts. Do not criticize. It might be hard for him or her to get up in the morning or do chores or homework during a bout of depression.
  • Asking for help when you need it. If you feel that your child is not doing well or might need some additional support, contact his or her doctor to get the right treatment for him or her.



Jul 14, 2013
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Helping Someone Who is Hallucinating

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A hallucination, which is a symptom of schizophrenia, is a perception of something that is not really there. It can involve any one of the senses, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. For example, someone who has schizophrenia might hear voices that nobody else hears or see something that nobody else sees. Chances are that you will know if a person is having a hallucination. It may scare you, because you can’t see why he or she is behaving as such. He or she might even be frightened as well. When this happens, you should remain calm, and try to offer to help. Here’s how:

  • Approach the person quietly while calling his or her name.
  • Ask him or her to tell you what is happening and ask whether he or she is afraid or confused.
  • Tell the person that he or she is hallucinating and that you do not see or hear what he or she does. However, don’t argue with him or her. He or she needs to feel comfortable talking to you about his or her symptoms.
  • Talk with the person about the experience, and ask whether there is anything you can do to help.
  • Suggest to him or her to tell the voices to go away.
  • Involving the person in other activities.
  • Help him or her find ways to handle the hallucinations, such as listening to music.
  • Most importantly, don’t rush him or her.



Jul 05, 2013
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What to Say and Not to Say

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If your loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you might be in shock and not sure what you should say to him or her. It is very important that you choose your words carefully, because what you communicate can either support your loved one or make him or her feel worse about his or her diagnosis. You might be shocked and frustrated by your loved one’s behavior, but no matter what he or she does and how upset you might get, try your best to avoid saying the following:

  • You’re crazy.
  • This is your fault.
  • You’re not trying.
  • Everyone has bad times.
  • You will be okay; there is no need to worry.
  • You will never be in a serious romantic relationship.
  • What’s the matter with you?
  • I can’t help you.
  • You don’t have to take your moods out on me; I am getting so tired of this.

So, what should you say to be supportive to help your loved one best manage his or her condition? Some of the most suitable words of encouragement you can say to your loved one include:

  • This is a medical illness and it is not your fault.
  • I am here. We will make it through this together.
  • You and your life are important to me.
  • You are not alone.
  • Tell me how I can help.
  • I might not know how you feel, but I am here to support you.
  • Whenever you feel like giving up, tell yourself to hold on for another minute, hour, or day, whatever you feel you can do.
  • Your illness doesn’t define who you are. You are still the same person, with hopes and dreams that you can attain.



Jun 27, 2013
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Helping Someone with Schizophrenia and Paranoia

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When those with schizophrenia are suffering from paranoia, you may be able to tell when they are acting paranoid. You may notice that they accuse others of trying to harm them or may being looking around fearfully. They might talk about protecting themselves from an attack. When they are in this state of paranoia, here are some ways to help them:

  • Don’t argue with them. Ask questions about their fears, and talk to them about the paranoia if they want to listen to you. If they are threatening you, call for help.
  • If needed, use simple directions. Tell them that no harm will come to them and that you can help.
  • Give them enough personal space so that they won’t feel trapped or surrounded. Stay with them, but at a distance that is comfortable for you and them. Try to stay more than an arm’s reach away.
  • Call for help if you think anyone is in danger.
  • Move them away from the cause of their fear or from noise and activity, if possible. Ask them to tell you what is causing their fear and make a direct statement to them that you are not afraid.
  • Focus them on what is real.
  • Be sure to tell them everything you are going to do before you do it so that you don’t increase their fears and paranoia. For example, say “I’m going to take out my cell phone” before you do so.

In order to help them with situations that may cause their paranoia, try these tips:

  • Help them avoid the things that they fear.
  • Keep lights turned on if the person tells you that this makes them feel less scared.
  • Talk about their fears when they are not paranoid, and make a plan for handling the fears when they do occur.
  • Help them make a list of their fears.



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Jun 16, 2013
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Barriers in Bipolar Disorder

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People who suffer from bipolar disorder can face many challenges, from the illness’s fluctuating feelings to its destructive effects on relationships. Here are some of the biggest obstacles, and strategies to overcome them:
•    Uncontrollability: “Bipolar disorder can feel uncontrollable,” according to Sheri L. Johnson, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley and director of the Cal Mania (CALM) Program. Symptoms can seem to appear suddenly and without provocation, and diminish daily functioning and ruin relationships.
o    Strategies: While this disorder can seem unpredictable, there are often patterns and triggers that you can watch out for. You can learn to minimize and manage your symptoms. Try keeping a mood chart to help monitor changes. This can help you, for example, anticipate a potential depressive episode if you see that your mood has been progressively sinking in the last couple days. Practicing healthy habits is another effective way to less the hold emotions have on you. Make it a priority to get enough sleep and avoid substances such as alcohol that can disrupt your sleep. Exercising and eliminating caffeine can help as well.
•    Medication: There is not a single medication that helps everyone with bipolar disorder. Finding the right medication, or combination of medications, can seeming like a daunting and never ending process.
o    Strategies: Be sure to learn as much as you can about mood-stabilizing medications, including potential side effects. Remember that it might take several tries to figure out the best medications for you.
•    Relationships: Bipolar disorder can be very hard on relationships. Symptoms such as swinging moods or risky behaviors can often leave loved ones feeling confused and exhausted. Loved ones might also have difficulty distinguishing between the illness and the person, invalidating the person’s feelings.
o    Strategies: This disorder is difficult to understand, so it is very important for loved ones to get educated about the illness and how it functions. Individual therapy, family therapy and support groups can help.
•    Anxiety: Almost two-thirds of people who have bipolar disorder also have a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
o    Strategies: Try using relaxation techniques instead of using avoidance behaviors. The more things you avoid because of your anxiety, the more it will actually increase, since you don’t allow your brain to learn that there is nothing to be anxious about.


Jun 16, 2013
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Teen Depression Facts Parents Should Know

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Teenagers are usually known for being moody, rebellious, egocentric and emotional. However, while this is normal adolescent behavior, depression is a real disorder that affects one in twenty teens. Michael Strober, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and senior consultant to the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital, says that depression in teens is “a serious mental health problem [that] can linger for months and a significant number of young people can have a recurrence.” Here are some facts about this commonly misunderstood disorder:

  • Depression Goes Beyond Moodiness: It can be hard to figure out the difference between normal teenage moodiness and doldrums, however if you notice that there’s been “a real change in the functioning of [your] child’s behavior,” says Strober, it might be more than just the typical teen behavior. You might notice your child changing his or her appetite and sleep, has poor school performance, has an inability to concentrate, and has a lack of interest and withdrawal from regular social activities. Look for consistent patterns. If you notice that your child’s depression behaviors last more than two weeks, you will want to pay more attention to his or her behaviors.
  • There’s No Quintessential Face of Depression: We have a tendency to create stereotypes around certain mental illnesses. Many assume that teens who have depression are troublemakers, loners, nerds or artsy types. However depression does not discriminate and can affect all types of teens.
  • Comorbidity is Common: Teenagers rarely just struggle with depression alone. Anxiety can commonly occur with depression due to teens having for example a combination of academic pressures and attempts to balance school with sport and social events.
  • Teen Depression is Treatable: Many people think that depression is difficult to treat; however cognitive behavioral therapy can help. According to Dr. Strober, research has found that CBT “should be considered as treatment for mild to moderate depression.” Certain antidepressants have been shown to be effective in teen depression as well, although one should consult with a doctor when deciding on the most applicable treatment.



Jun 08, 2013
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Pets helping Bipolar Disorder

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People who suffer from bipolar disorder might be able to find some solace from their depressed lows and manic highs through service animals and even regular pets. Pet therapy, also known as animal-assisted therapy, is often recommended for people with bipolar or other mood disorders. Service animals are able to provide companionship and are trained to work with a specific patient to help that person deal with their disabilities, including specific bipolar symptoms. However, you don’t need a specially trained animal to get psychological benefits from having an animal nearby. Recent studies are showing that simply owning a pet can help someone who is recovering from a serious illness. Having a pet can help to soothe bipolar symptoms. Doctors have found that pets are of tremendous benefit for people recovering from serious mental illness:

  • Pet provide a sense of being known and understood, with a sense of unconditional love that can restore a person’s empathy
  • They enable bipolar patients to feel more connected with the world. They might feel this connection with the pet, or they may find that the pet forces them to connect with other people.
  • Pets create a comforting sense of family for someone with bipolar disorder.
  • They can help to build a sense of self-worth and confidence.
  • Pets can also provide a sense of purpose for a person.



May 25, 2013
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