For Families and Friends
Mood disorders affect the whole
family. Moods can be contagious: the irritability or excitement of mania, the
gloom of depression. During a severe
episode, it can feel like you are always in crisis mode, and in that mode it becomes
hard to think clearly. You may wonder
how to react, how to help, and which actions come from the illness and which
come from the real person.
There is not a lot you can do to
change people during a mood episode.
Remember: it is hard enough to change people when they aren’t having
mood swings! Still, it is likely you
will find yourself arguing with a manic relative or trying to motivate a
loved-one who is depressed. These
attempts can frustrate you and your relative, yet they are natural reactions
to the stress you are under and no one can control them entirely.
There are some indirect ways you
can help your relative, besides guiding them to treatment. A lot of research has shown that certain
ways of relating can prevent mood swings, while others can increase them.
First, focus on increasing these in the relationship:
warmth and empathy:
Empathy is a form of compassionate, nonjudgmental understanding. When we are empathic, it usually shows in
our face, voice and body language, as the pictures to the right
demonstrate. Empathy doesn’t mean
knowing someone fully, but simply wanting to understand them as they are
without trying to change or judge them.
In this way it is similar to mindfulness,
a mental practice that can reduce stress and increase empathy.
It is also empathic to clarify and respect the boundaries between you and
them. Balancing your own independence with your connection to your loved one
is not an easy task. Keep this part in mind as you read about
“over-involvement” on page 2.
Pay attention to what your relative can
do. Notice improvement. Admire their struggle. Also helpful are neutral comments, which
describe what you see without judging it, trying to change it, or suggesting
what the cause or motivation is.
about the illness:
Your loved one may forget that recovery is possible in the midst of an
episode. Be careful that you don’t
lose this awareness, and express hope openly.
Likewise, make efforts to remember how they were before the episode,
and communicate optimism that they’ll be that way again.
Click here to continue
—Updated 8/5/11 by Chris Aiken, MD
Non-verbal communication is an important part of empathy and warmth, as the
pictures above demonstrate.