How Do I Explain Bipolar Disorder to Family?

How Do I Explain Bipolar Disorder to Family?

When you think about how to explain yours or a loved one’s bipolar disorder to others, it can feel daunting. It may even feel like you should not have to explain it to anyone, yet it is impacting your life. When thinking about how to organize your thoughts around this conversation, try these tips to help you get started.

Keep it Simple

The first tip is to keep it down to basics. Explain that people with bipolar disorder have mood swings, from elation to depression, that do not have anything to do with what’s going on in their lives. Explain how this is because bipolar disorder is caused by electrochemical abnormalities in the brain. This is not a reflection of a loved one’s behavior, words, or mood. This may be a good time to state there is a genetic link to this disorder, which may be why you see a family history. It may also help to:

  • Break out bipolar disorder moods and states
  • Define how these moods impact you
  • Talk about what happens when you feel manic or depressed
  • Use personal experiences to relate to them on a personal level

Explain Depressive Symptoms

It helps to emphasize with family during these times how loved ones take you seriously and seek out medical attention. If you are concerned about yourself or your loved one’s safety, also feel free to discuss that. Have some statements ready to support finding help for your condition. It helps others support you if they know what to say to someone else about your condition (in an emergency, for instance).

Share Sparingly

The key to sharing your story is to share only what feels necessary for you to get your point across. Perhaps you want to describe symptoms of bipolar disorder or maybe not. Maybe you have outbursts, maybe you apologize for saying hurtful things in the past. Explain you need medication to help control your angry outbursts and that you don’t want to be hurtful. Talk about how you shift from mood to mood, and talk about how you feel, but also know you can tell them only what you feel is necessary and safe. It is a good idea to clarify common misconceptions about bipolar disorder. Know that only a small percentage of people are ever violent when they have episodes so sharing with family that is a rare thing will help bring them a measure of peace, especially when you are not sure you remember what you do when you are in certain moods. Be careful what you share, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and offer what feels necessary to seek support and healing for your journey.

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