Bipolar disorder can be isolating at times. Those people with poorly controlled bipolar disorder, in particular, may find their social support networks dwindling and their relationships with family members also being negatively affected. Even for those who can maintain social or family support networks may feel that they need the support of people who really understand what it’s like to live with bipolar disorder. Whether newly diagnosed or a long-time bipolar disorder survivor, support is an absolutely critical component of your treatment plan.
Stress is known to be a trigger for bipolar episodes. Feeling lonely, overwhelmed, ashamed, or frustrated are forms of stress. By finding support for the daily struggles and triumphs of living with bipolar disorder, you can reduce your stress and potentially the likelihood of triggering a manic or depressive episode. You may find that support in family and friends. If so, those may be key players in your wellness journey. For those people who do not have support from family or friends, or for whom that support is not enough, many other options exist.
Most populous areas have support groups for adults who are living with mental illness, as well as for family members. A good place to start is the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which holds educational and support activities as well as being engaged in political advocacy in all 50 states. Local hospitals and mental health clinics are also potential resources for finding a group. You may also consider calling your county or city department of health or department of mental health to find out what kind of resources they know of. Support groups provide an opportunity to be in a space where the stigma of mental illness is irrelevant and the focus is on sharing common experiences and helping each other build coping skills.
You may be able to find behavioral health organizations that provide case managers to help people living with mental illness get their needs met and to help coordinate between the various services you may be receiving. Sometimes a case manager can help with job hunting, applying for disability, finding a psychiatrist, and obtaining housing. If your illness is interfering greatly with your ability to live your daily life there may also be housing agencies in your area that specialize in supportive independent housing for people living with mental illness.
The internet is a fantastic resource for bipolar disorder support. It’s important to remember that not all information on the internet is accurate or well-researched and some is quite biased. However, there is information available through online networks that is hard to access any other way. E-mail list-serves, patient blogs, organization websites, medical dictionaries, and medication references are just a handful of the resources that can be useful to a person living with mental illness. You can also visit the site for the Depression and Bipolar Alliance.
Support can come from all kinds of places. You therapist may be a major source of support. Perhaps there is a clergy person who you can confide in and who is sensitive to the needs of mentally ill congregants. You may discover that you have a coworker or a cousin or a person you ride the bus with every day who lives with mental illness or has a loved one who does, and is comfortable knowing about this aspect of your life. Through selective disclosure about your bipolar disorder you may be able to identify more supportive individuals than you ever thought was possible.