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.